Forests cover almost a third of the land surface on earth, providing natural habitats for 80% of land-dwelling species, and playing an essential role on the carbon cycle. In short they are essential to sustaining life on our planet.
Despite this, through deforestation, 80% of the world’s forests have been destroyed, with this damning statistic leading to serious repercussions upon our environment.
State of decline
While deforestation has occurred slowly over human history, it has accelerated in recent years at an alarming rate, with around 15 billion trees lost every year. This is the equivalent of a football field every 1.4 seconds, and an area the size of New York every two days!
The more recent increase in deforestation is demonstrated by the loss of 17% of the Amazonian rainforest in the last 50 years. Experts are suggesting that if current rates of deforestation continue then the world’s rainforests could be gone completely within a hundred years.
What is causing this increased deforestation?
Deforestation to this extent is a man-made phenomenon, with natural causes such as wildfires and overgrazing of animals much less destructive than the mass woodland culling of people. Cattle-ranching is a leading cause, with large areas of woodland culled to make space for cows to graze.
In addition, the commercial demand for products like palm oil and wood for building materials has a huge impact on the number of trees being lost each year, while paper is also a big contributor to deforestation.
Forests are a vital part of the carbon cycle on earth, as they convert massive amounts of carbon dioxide into oxygen. This natural conversion also means that forests are an essential defence against climate change, acting as a carbon sink to soak up excess carbon dioxide.
The often illegal burning of trees to create farmland in particular is a double-edged sword, with stored carbon dioxide being released back into the atmosphere whenever a tree is burnt.
As such, deforestation is hugely impactful upon the environment, with 15% of greenhouse gases occurring due to deforestation.
Addressing this problem
The massive environmental impact of deforestation is an issue that is being tackled through conservation organisations, such as WWF and Conservation International, who encourage the replenishment of our forests through replanting and greater care.
At present, around 5 billion trees are planted or begin to sprout every year, which is roughly a third of those being destroyed through deforestation. Although this ratio is far from balanced, these efforts are vital in addressing the above issues.
In addition to conservation, many countries have been pursuing greater sustainability through investing in renewable energy. The UK, in particular, is a world-leader in terms of wind power.
While this change at a global level is one approach to addressing deforestation, at an individual level we can all play our part too. Reducing paper usage at work and home, avoiding products containing palm oil, and eating less beef are all helpful measures, while there are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint as well.
Protecting the world’s forests is essential to ensuring a sustainable future, and we need to address this problem at a global and individual level to find a solution.