The Impact of Deforestation on the Environment

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Climate change is a worldwide concern that has piqued the interest of many academics. Many losses have been suffered in the climate, economy, and culture at large as a result of dramatic shifts in climatic conditions and global temperature. Not only has there been a loss of biodiversity, especially of endangered species, but there has also been rapid melting of ice and a loss of forests and water supplies (the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). Despite the fact that numerous nations have attempted to adopt climate change mechanisms such as negotiations and climate change conventions, the global climate continues to deteriorate. The rate of consumption of natural resources is still high and fuel usage is at the peak which results to increased emission of greenhouse gasses (Ali, Riaz, & Iqbal, 2014). Although various factors are associated with climate change, deforestation is considered the most urgent climate change problem because it threatens high areas of biodiversity, impacts the global carbon cycle, and displaces forest dwelling communities. It is, thus, important that the issue of deforestation is addressed in order to ensure that the ecosystem is conserved.

Impact of Deforestation on the Environment

Human beings depend on forests due to the fact that they have a significant impact on the natural and built environments. On the one hand, being one of the main constituent parts of the human environment, forests affect climate, availability of clean water, clean air, protection of agricultural land, provide space for a comfortable stay and rest for people, keep a variety of wildlife (Ali, Riaz, & Iqbal, 2014). On the other hand, forest is a source of many material resources, without which humanity would not have timber for construction, paper and furniture, firewood, food and medicinal plants, and other things, which make forests an economic resource (World Wide Fund, 2017). Forests are also a part of the cultural and historical environment, which is formed under the influence of cultures and traditions of different nations, the provider of work, independence and material well-being for a significant part of the population, especially for those who live in the forest villages and towns. Amidst these benefits, the society still indulges in anthropogenic activities such as logging, and fuel wood fires which result in deforestation.

Over the past 20 years (1970-1990) the world has lost nearly 200 million hectares of forest, which is equal to the area east of the Mississippi river in the United States. The situation, however, varies from country to country (Ali, Riaz, & Iqbal, 2014). The most populated European country, Finland, has a territory of 70% covered with forests. Forests in Britain account for less than 6 % of its territory. Still, extensive forests are saved in Asia, and in the Siberian lowlands, as well as in tropical and subtropical areas of the southeast of the continent (Sadik Mohammed¸ 2014). Forests cover about two-thirds of the area of North and South America; besides forest biome remains dominant in the fourth part of Africa, and about a fifth of Australia (World Wide Fund, 2017). Although in Europe and Asia the wooded areas have increased slightly from 1974 to 1989, a decline of 2.6% of Australian forests is witnessed every year. Even greater degradation of forests is in countries like Côte d’Ivoire with a 5.4% degradation rate, while 4.3% in Thailand and 3.4% in Paraguay.

The developed countries had lived through massive deforestation before and during the Industrial Revolution, which eventually led to serious consequences. Even with the restoration attempts, deforestation is still considered a huge problem in these countries. According to Chakravarty, Ghosh, Suresh, Dey, & Shukla (2012), the situation is even worse in the developing countries where the era of modern energy has not yet occurred; two-thirds of the population (about 2.5 billion people) still relies on forests. In such countries firewood is still used for heating and cooking, and even in the cities people use charcoal produced by cutting and burning wood (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). Since the beginning of the century, forests in the African continent have decreased by almost half, and in some countries the decrease is by 5 to 10 times. For example, in Ethiopia over 40 % of the territory was covered with forests at the beginning of the 20th century, with now only 3.5% of its territory having forests (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). In India, forests covered 22 % of the territory 40 years ago, whereas this percentage went down to 10%. At the present time, approximately 60% of these countries cut down forests faster than they grow, with deforestation, sometimes, being five times faster, than reforestation.

Of particular concern is the destruction of tropical forests, where the average destruction rate reaches 1% a year of their total area. Rainforest is the source of half of all of the world’s hardwood, and according to the estimate given by the World Wide Fund (2017), during the average lifetime of 50 years, the rainforest tree provides the “environmental income” of $196250 from the production of oxygen, reduction of air pollution, erosion control and soil fertility, water regulation; whereas if it was sold as wood, it would bring only about $590. Moreover, the same rainforest tree provides the habitat for wild animals and plants during its lifetime (Pachamama Alliance, 2017). Tropical forests in Indonesia, the Congo and the Amazon rivers basin are particularly vulnerable and are at high risk; at this rate of deforestation, tropical rainforests will disappear in less than 100 years (World Wide Fund, 2017). West Africa has lost about 90 % of its coastal rainforests, the same numbers and in South Asia. In South America, 40 % of tropical forests disappeared; Madagascar has lost 90% of its eastern rainforests. Forests are also disappearing at an alarming rate in Siberia (Pachamama Alliance, 2017). Here, over half a million hectares of forests are cut down each year, while only one-third of that number is planted with new trees.

One of the key impacts of deforestation is a loss of biodiversity. Extinction is not a new phenomenon; it has occurred over a long period of time. However, the trending paroxysm is the greatest extinction resulting from anthropogenic activities (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). The commonly affected part of biodiversity is the tropical rainforest and coral reefs which are the most endangered species. Deforestation depletes the ecosystem by separating the areas of rainforest from each other, and destroying habitat through the interference with reproduction of plants and exposure of organisms to the “edge” effects (Pachamama Alliance, 2017). Logging is more complex than removal of trees from the forest; there are various plants and trees that depend upon the canopy trees for shade, moisture, and support. This means that cutting down the trees deprive the other organisms of the fundamental needs of growth. Different animal species also depend on the trees for food, water, shelter, and breeding areas (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). Deforestation results in the loss of such animals, except for the large ones that can migrate to other forest areas for survival (World Wide Fund, 2017). Plants found in deforested areas are unable to pollinate; if they do, their seeds fall in unsuitable places where they are unable to survive. Additionally, rainforest species are rare, and can rarely be found in other places; logging or burning of forests can make them disappear.

Deforestation through logging results in the extension of roads into the areas that previously had not been touched. Logging roads and tracks that pick up the cu t trees can affect soil and plant life (World Wide Fund, 2017). Logging and roads are also associated with erosion which results from the exposure of trees to the newly-formed edges. Additionally, loggers hunt, graze, and practice agriculture along the created logging roads. These people also hunt for “bushmeat” to sell for cities in the tropics; with the existence of chainsaws, shotguns, and outboard motors, these activities results in the loss of biodiversity (Chakravarty et al. 2012). Many of the species lost during that are vital for preservation of the ecosystem are lost through logging and hunting. Others that are valuable in terms of medicine and food are also endangered.

Ancillary deforestation consequences are very common. A common impact is increased water pollution as a result of soil erosion. Without trees that can anchor soil, the top soil and other chemicals can be eroded into the rivers and other water sources. According to Pachamama Alliance (2017), agricultural plants such as cotton, wheat, coffee, and soybean that replace trees are unable to hold onto the soil, and instead exacerbate soil erosion. It is also estimated that arable land has become extinct as a result of soil erosion; as fertile soil is washed away, people encroach forested areas further and continue the cycle of loss (World Wide Fund, 2017). Pollution results in the loss of biodiversity; this varies from loss of aquatic life to eutrophication in lakes and rivers that result in the increased Biological Oxygen Demand that leads to the death of aquatic life and reduced water quality (World Wide Fund, 2017).

Pollutants originating from agriculture also affect the quality of water sources. Chemical from eroded soil and industries are directed into rivers and other water sources; this directly affects the aquatic life. When chemical penetrate into body tissues, the reproductive system of animal species in water sources is affected; this hinders the birth of off-springs, thus, causing extinction. Additionally, chemical pollution affects the food chain. Smaller organisms ingest harmful chemicals, which are stored and later transferred to larger animals ingesting the smaller ones as source of food. This results in the contamination of the food chain, and may result in the death of various plant and animal species (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). Chemical pollution can also endanger the life of human beings that feed on contaminated sea food.

The loss of mahogany (swietenia macrophylla) is an example of biodiversity loss as a result of deforestation. Mahogany has been historically logged unsustainably by loggers and timber companies that extract trees for local and international supply (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). By 1735, the species began to be extinct in Jamaica as loggers moved the trees to different countries including Central America. Without preservation, mahogany will no longer exist. Various organizations including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other regulatory bodies have worked towards advocating for the protection of animals, but not plant and trees species (Sadik Mohammed, 2014). Countries that profit from mahogany trade have also blocked environmental organizations from listing the tree species by CITES. Logging of this species is unregulated, and as such will result in the loss.

Borneo, in Malaysia, has also been used as a case study for logging impacts. After logging began in the surveyed area, there were no observable changes in the first year in regards to the total number of species. However, over time some of the species became endangered, including rail babbler, brown tortoise, and the ground squirrel (Chakravarty et al. 2012). Due to the removal of their competitors, squirrels thrived as they were able to obtain greater food supply. Some species further thrived such as magpie robins, tree shrews, and bulbuls; these, however, interfered with the other species that were unable to survive in the undisturbed forests (Gorte & Sheikh¸ 2010). After a period of two to three years with constant logging, the mammalian and primate species number became lower. There were shifts in the forest species; those that were tolerant with the edging replaced the primary species existing in the forest (Chakravarty et al. 2012). Currently, the major concern is the civet cats which are the major seed dispersers in the area and the flying foxes that act as pollinators; if they become extinct, the forest ecosystem will adversely be affected.

Deforestation is also known to contribute largely to the interference with the global carbon cycle through greenhouse gasses release and climate change. Greenhouse gasses are the accumulated gasses in the global atmosphere over the recent years. The most common of the gasses are carbon dioxide and methane. According to World Wide Fund (2017), changes that occur during deforestation include the cycle of carbon from the vegetation burnt to the atmosphere. Part of the carbon also originates from the decay of vegetation rotting after logging and the carbon lost when wood are removed from the site (Pachamama Alliance¸ 2017). Data showing carbon release from deforestation is variable. In a recent study of the Nigeria, 20% of the biomass is burned during land conversion with 70% from slash remaining in the site (Nwankwoala, 2015). Wood products contribute to 8% while 2% is released in form of burned carbon dioxide. Every year, about 2.0 petagrams of carbon are released as a result of deforestation in the region (Nwankwoala, 2015). Further studies reveal that deforestation is the key contributor of atmospheric carbon. Deforestation from the tropics is estimated to cause 4.2 Pg. of carbon each year. The net release of carbon to the atmosphere as a result of deforestation is approximated to be 20 to 30% of total global carbon emissions (Nwankwoala, 2015). During forest burning, another greenhouse gas released is nitric oxide; this, together with other emitted gasses, causes various impacts on the soil, water, and general biodiversity.

The tree cover on the Earth plays an important role in carbon sequestration and act as habitat for various wildlife and other organisms. There is only 3% of forests covering the whole world; this is a very low number compared to deserts and cleared areas (Gorte & Sheikh¸ 2010). Currently, the carbon sink is lost due to the increased logging and man-made forest fires. It has been estimated that over 40 million acres of forest are cleared and burned every year. Another 15 million of the existing forests are exploited through logging. This represents 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world (Gorte & Sheikh¸ 2010). Almost everywhere in the world is affected by deforestation. However, Madagascar and Brazil are the major victims of this global problem. In Nigeria, the total emission resulting from deforestation is 3% of the world’s carbon emissions. This is almost 25% of the total Nigeria’s emissions annually. According to Gorte & Sheikh (2010), deforestation has been increasing in Nigeria at an alarming rate. In 2002, the problem escalated to 28% of the total emissions; this still rose by 2 % in 2003. From a study, the authors noticed that in 2005, more than 23,750 square kilometers of the Brazilian rainforest was cut down; this rose to 30,000 square kilometers in 2006 (Reppert, 2006). It is clear that deforestation and logging forests result in the production of 220 tons of CO2 every year. Apart from the resulting increase in global warming, this also causes loss of biodiversity, both flora and fauna.

Increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is also caused by clearance of forests for agricultural purposes. For agriculture to be practiced, land has to be cleared, and the raw materials from the farms processed. Clearing of lands reduces the percentage forest cover in the world. Lawrence & Vandecar (2015) in their study concluded that global warming and forests are said to be interlinked. The destruction of rainforests around the equator is seen as the greatest cause of rise in the temperatures. The emission of carbon dioxide and other gasses have been linked to global warming as a result of increasing temperatures (Lawrence & Vandecar, 2015). For instance, global warming is one of the climate change effects that been has cited as the most serious. The resultant temperature increases that come with global warming cause a lot of changes on the earth (World Wide Fund, 2017). More floods and drought are experienced as a result. Additionally, cases of severe hot waves become common. The resultant warming effects also cause the loss of sea ice through melting, and the rise of sea levels and intense heat waves. As the ocean temperatures rise, there are increased chances of occurrence of natural disasters such as hurricanes increase. Temperature changes in some regions can cause the likeliness and frequency of fire cases.

There are vast impacts of climate change as a result of global warming. Increasing temperatures have affected weather patterns and the balance of water systems. Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation also causes increasing temperatures. From the 20th century, there has been an increasing the global temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit every year. This phenomenon has resulted in the rising of sea levels, increased storms, and illnesses. The World Wide Fund (2017) denotes that warmer atmospheres result in the melting of glaciers and freshwater ice which further causes a rise in the sea levels. Disasters that result from deforestation such as Hurricane Katrina have caused loss of lives (3,000 deaths) and property. With the increasing temperatures of the ocean waters, the acidity levels of water resources have also risen. The Environmental Protection Agency (2015) suggests that the acidity level of water resources is currently above 40% compared to the past century.

Another impact of climate change is the loss of natural habitat and biodiversity. With the rising temperatures, the habitat of land and water ecosystems change directly impacts both flora and fauna (Gorte & Sheikh¸ 2010). In the case of a like, increasing temperatures affect the growth of plant organisms such as algae which is a food source for coral; this can affect the availability of corals (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Deforestation has also contributed to the chilly winters and longer summer experience which increases the survival rate of invasive species like the tree-killing insect. The favorable climates have always encouraged invasion of trees by the invasive insect species; in the Rocky Mountain Conifers, more than 70,000 acres of forest had been lost in 2011 as a result of climate change (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). The changes in the weather patterns also affect animal species; with the increasing rate of ice melting, mammals like walruses and polar bear have been affected. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2017) shows that in 2008, the Endangered Species Act included the polar bears in the endangered species list because of their reducing numbers as a result of climate change.

In the Antarctic regions, there is a decline in the ice sheets as a result of climate change which threatens the existence of animals in that region. Flooding due to heavy rainfall is also experienced in some areas whereas in other parts of the world extreme drought is experienced al due to high temperatures. According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (2017), this lead to decrease in food productivity in different parts of the world especially in countries whose income depends on rain fed agriculture. Climate change has had its effects on human health that in most cases leads to deaths (Buizer, Humphreys, & de Jong, 2014). Heat waves have led to diseases like skin cancer while hazards like floods have left many people dead e.g. in countries like Japan. Some impacts are indirect like malnutrition due to lack of food, increase in malaria infections and diarrheal diseases; all these pose a real danger to human health.

Deforestation as a component of water pollution results in the displacement of dwelling communities, especially the indigenous people. During the time of Columbus, there were over 6 million indigenous people who resided in the Amazon basin; this number has resided to less than 500,000 today (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). The numbers of such people are continuing to fall as a result of exclusion from the forest areas by deforestation, resettlement, and government decree. Because of their disappearance, the human race is losing the extensive knowledge of the ecological ideology of such areas (Lawrence & Vandecar, 2015). Indigenous people practice hunting and shifting cultivation and consider traditional forest management systems. As such, in order for them to survive, large tract of land is needed for diversification. In order to avoid exploitation and tragedy of the commons, the numbers of the people must remain low (Lawrence & Vandecar, 2015). In the real world, the indigenous groups have been chased out of the forests; this has distorted their lifestyle with some of them being assimilated in other social and cultural groups.

In Brazil, the Yanomami, which is the leading indigenous group recognized, have been collectors, hunters, and fishers. They practice cultivation of various crops including plantains, bananas, manioc, and other tubers (Buizer, Humphreys, & de Jong, 2014). Another indigenous group, Kayapo, has also lived in the Brazilian forests over a decade, and has been engaged in the practice of cultivation of variety of crops including tubers, nuts, medicinal plants, and fruits (Gorte & Sheikh¸ 2010). They grow various varieties of yams, cassava, and bananas aside from raising bees and keep animals. Recently, the government forced the people to leave their areas of residence into urban settings. These areas have been logged, especially in Borneo where the patterns of trees exploitation have resulted in the destruction of traditional life patterns (Chakravarty et al. 2012). The groups receive very few profits from the timber industry as they work in the low-paying logging activities. Although some of them are able to get jobs, others have relocated to the cash economy areas and hired labor in the industrialized areas.

Individuals have also been affected with the changing water cycle which results from deforestation. Forests recycle more than 50% of precipitation in forests through evapotranspiration and evaporation (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). These two processes are important in the carbon and hydrological cycle, and as such, influence climate stabilization. By cutting down trees, the process of transpiration is hindered. Since trees are deep rooters compare to the replacement vegetation, losing them reduces uptake of water, which still affects evapotranspiration (Lawrence & Vandecar, 2015). This affects rain availability, increased aridity, and reduced cloud cover. In deforested areas, there may be increase in the annual temperatures. In the areas where forest cover has been affected, rainfall reduces below then normal level, thus causing aridity and semi-aridity.

Conclusion

From various studies, Americans feel that the issue of climate change is not serious as such. Less environmental changes could be observed with the government becoming reluctant to take actions. With the inception of various technologies, especially traveling options such as aircrafts, more attention must be placed in the control of emission of greenhouse gasses. Various mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that countries reduce their emission of greenhouse gasses and avoid deforestation. There are legislative efforts made to control climate change; the Kyoto protocol that previously assisted in combating the ugly phenomenon is yet to expire. Efforts like carbon trading and creation of awareness are yet to become effective. The American government should, thus, be concerned in constructing new technologies to reduce cases of pollution, deforestation, burning of exhaustible fuels, and overconsumption of resources in order to curb climate change.

References

Ali, A., Riaz, S., & Iqbal, S. (2014). Deforestation and its impacts on climate change an overview of Pakistan. Papers on Global Change IGBP, 21(1), 51-60.

Buizer, M., Humphreys, D., & de Jong, W. (2014). Climate change and deforestation: The evolution of an intersecting policy domain. Environmental Science & Policy, 35, 1-11.

Chakravarty, S, Ghosh, S. K., Suresh, C. P., Dey, A. N., & Shukla, G. (2012). Deforestation: Causes, Effects, and Control Strategies. In C. A. Okia (Ed.), Global Perspectives on Sustainable Forest Management (pp. 3-21). Shanghai: InTech.

Gorte, R. W. & Sheikh, P. A. (2010). Deforestation and Climate Change. (CRS Report No. R41144). Retrieved from Congressional Research Service. http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/R41144.pdf

Lawrence, D., & Vandecar, K. (2015). Effects of tropical deforestation on climate and agriculture. Nature Climate Change, 5(1), 27-36.

Nwankwoala, H. N. L. (2015). Causes of Climate and Environmental Changes: The Need for Environmental-Friendly Education Policy in Nigeria. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(30), 224-234.

Pachamama Alliance. (2017). Effects of Deforestation. Panchamama Alliance. Retrieved from https://www.pachamama.org/effects-of-deforestation

Sadik Mohammed, A. (2014). Deforestation and its effect on livelihood patterns of forest fringe communities in the Asunafo North Municipality (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

Climate change impacts. (2015). United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-ecosystems

World Wide Fund (2017). Deforestation. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation

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