Save The Trees: Deforestation
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Deforestation is a serious problem today, and has been for a long time. It is one of the greatest threats to nature on Earth, if not the single greatest. It is one root cause of soil erosion, the root cause of global warming, and the greatest contributor to the endangerment and extinction of so many species throughout the world. To understand deforestation though, one must know exactly what it is first. Therefore, deforestation is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica Online as “The cutting down and clearing of trees from forests, usually causing ecological harm. The process has occurred as long as wood has been used as an energy source.” Furthermore, “In the 1990’s, the deforestation of tropical rainforests threatened to increase Earth’s carbon dioxide levels, make much land unproductive, and force many plant and animals species into extinction,” (“Deforestation” Britannica). Many reasons, including expanding population and resettlement schemes, ranching and pasture development, and the timber industry, are touted as root causes of deforestation (Mitten).
Each and every day more trees around the world are being felled due to the demand for timber, which has nearly doubled in the last twenty years (Mitten). According to Mostafa Tolba, in Audubon, “By the end of the decade, 2.4 billion people will be unable to satisfy their minimum energy requirements without consuming wood faster that it is being grown,” (56). Some of the advantages to keeping well-maintained forests are the regulation of fresh water supplies, recycling nutrients and disposal of wastes, and the control of pests and diseases. The clear cutting that is practiced worldwide brings about a great many problems, one of which is the erosion of valuable topsoil. Loss of quality topsoil for farming leads to reduced crop yields, which can result in famine. Famine costs lives, and can be one of the roadblocks for third-world countries that so greatly wish to climb out of their unfortunate situations.
Also, all civilized and industrialized nations are guilty of contributing to the very serious problem of deforestation. That makes it all the much easier for global warming to occur. The United States has the dubious honor of producing the greatest amount of carbon dioxide, only to be followed closely behind by China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany (World Almanac). Carbon dioxide is a gas that, when high enough in quantity, acts like an envelope in that it helps trap excess heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. This might not seem like such a problem to the casual observer, but this excess heat can throw off the intricate workings of the Earth’s biome. Throughout the past two centuries, there has been an increase of about thirty percent of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, CH4, N20. Many scientists now believed that this buildup is the major cause of higher than normal average global temperatures, or the greenhouse effect, going into the 21st century. The hottest year on record is 1998, followed by 2002, then 2001, in order of highest average annual temperatures worldwide (World Almanac). Global warming is gaining momentum, and unless drastic measures are taken very soon, all could be lost.
Forests cover over 27.7 percent of all ice-free land in the world. Trouble abounds throughout the world when forests are lost. “In Haiti, where forests once covered most of the land, forty to fifty million trees are cut each year to supply firewood, cropland, and charcoal,” (Audubon 56). In Panama, cleared forests serve as watersheds. Water runs off instead of collecting. It is feared that without the forests collecting water the locks in the Panama Canal will not be able to function (Mitchell 7). “In Bangladesh and India, deforestation has caused another kind of problem increasing the frequency and force of floods. Bangladesh used to suffer a catastrophic flood every fifty years or so; by the 1980s the country was being hit with major floods-which was away farms and rice paddies-every four years. Between the 1960s and late 1980s, India’s flood-prone areas grew from approximately twenty-five million hectares to fifty-nine million,” (Audubon 56-57).
Furthermore, this destruction of diverse biological aspects could result in extinction of yet unknown species. These aforementioned species could yield yet unforeseen cures of many of today’s illnesses. We have no idea what possible opportunities might lie hidden within the genomes of the world’s forests. “There is a further dimension to the impoverishment that is overtaking the Earth’s biota. Many species are losing entire sub-units, in the forms of races and populations, which greatly reduces their genetic variability. Even though these species are not being endangered in terms of their overall numbers, many of them, such as corn, rice and wheat, are suffering a critical decline in their genetic variety,” (Myers 132). “Informed estimates tell us there must be at least five million (species); recent research suggests there could be as many as thirty million insect species in tropical forests alone. We also know that the distribution of species worldwide is far from even. At least two-thirds of them, and perhaps as many as ninety percent are concentrated in the Tropics.”
Recent research suggests there could be as many as thirty million insect species alone, in the tropical forests.” Also, six percent of the Earth’s land surface is covered by these tropical forests, which shelter approximately fifty percent of all species of the world. If this bio-depletion is allowed to continue there soon may be little left of this biome (Myers 132). The tropical rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon are key to maintaining the bio-diversity of that region. About forty percent of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests is found in Brazil. They play a vital role in maintaining regional hydrology and climate, terrestrial carbon storage, as well as their bio-diversity (Laurance 438). “Wild plants also contribute to our health needs. Investigators have only taken a look at one percent of these intensively,” (Myers 132). Ironically, “it also has the World’s highest absolute rate of forest destruction, currently averaging nearly two million hectares per year.” One hectare is equal to 2.4 acres (Laurance 438).
In contrast to the Brazilian rainforest situation, within the last ten years China has taken steps to restore forests in their nation. They have planted about seventy million hectares of endangered landscape. Furthermore, sources within the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have estimated that 1.1 million hectares of trees are successfully planted each year worldwide (Deforestation 57).
Deforestation has a great impact to the climate of the world. The phrases ‘ozone layer’ and ‘greenhouse effect’ as well as ‘global warning’ can all be attributed to loss of timber throughout the world. Trees, which convert CO2, or carbon dioxide, and water, into sugar and oxygen, are the only line of defense against global warming. The lower the number of living trees in the world, the greater the quantity of carbon dioxide that isn’t being converted, and the smaller the quantity of oxygen produced. When fewer trees consume CO2, the greater in excess it becomes, trapping more and more heat within the atmosphere. Again, according to the World Almanac, the hottest year was 1998, the third hottest was 2001, and nine of the ten hottest on record have occurred since 1990.Records on average global temperatures have been kept from 1880 to present (Environment).
Today, through various media coverage, these problems and disastrous situations have been brought to the attention of the world. Recent attempts have been undertaken to slow the progress of this problem. In 1997 a United Nations summit on global warming was held in Kyoto, Japan. Over one hundred and fifty nations worldwide sent delegates to this summit. They adopted a treaty to limit specific emissions (of greenhouse gasses). Thirty-eight industrialized countries signed the treaty, though developing nations were not bound to the same restrictions as developed countries. Fifteen E.U. (European Union) nations agreed to binding reductions (Environment).
Viable alternatives do exist, but conserving the forests will not be easy. Governments are now realizing the value of intact forests as these help prevent flooding, slow erosion, help stabilize regional climates, promote bio-diversity, support ecotourism industries, and help maintain indigenous communities. All of these are powerful incentives to persuade nations around the world to leave forests untouched.
The widespread deforestation that plagues our world is a grave epidemic. But all is not yet lost. Steps to make better use of the wood that is cut should be investigated. For example, modification of wood burning stoves should be undertaken to make them burn more efficiently. Another way to slow reliance of wood for fuel would be to investigate the use of solar energy for cooking and heating. Also, “Using the forests sustainably-by tapping trees for rubber for example, or developing environmentally sound tourism- would provide more revenue than slash-and-burn agriculture,” (Deforestation 57).
Though logging and other forms of deforestation have deeply scarred this planet, we may yet be capable of returning from the brink of disaster. Though deforestation’s effects do include famine, erosion of precious topsoil, loss of watersheds, and depletion of the ozone layer, commonly called ‘global warming,’ there is still hope. As Norman Myers states, “In response to a surge of citizen interest, the world’s governments are moving to safeguard bio-diversity…It is no longer sufficient to respond to symptoms of problems. We must address their source.” “Ultimately we must safeguard enough habitats for millions of species, including our own.” (132)
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