Causes of Deforestation: What Environmentalists Aren’t Telling You
You’ve probably heard that deforestation is the leading cause of climate change. But are you sure you heard it right? In recent years, there has been a lot of concern over the impact that deforestation is having on our climate. The fact is, it’s not just the amount of trees being cut down — it’s how they’re being cut down. And this has a serious negative effect on the climate. We take a look at some of the major causes of deforestation and what you can do to reduce your risk of being involved in this destructive activity.
How Does Deforestation Cause Climate Change?
Deforestation is the cutting down of trees. Whether you’re talking about tropical or temperate forests, deforestation is a process of clearing land for agriculture or other purposes. When this land is cleared, it releases stored carbon dioxide and other potent greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The enhanced growth of trees after being cleared of useful plants and trees can also lead to the growth of forests that store even more carbon. The fact that forests take up more than 40% of the earth’s land surface and contain 70-80% of the world’s stored carbon makes them a crucial component of our climate and atmosphere.
The Impact of Deforestation on Climate Change
Simply put, deforestation releases carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon is a very potent greenhouse gas and the increase in its concentration in the atmosphere can have a significant impact on the climate. According to some studies, deforestation accounts for as much as 26% of the increase in global mean air temperature over the last 50 years. However, other studies put the contribution at as low as 5% and as high as 66%. The lower figure is likely realistic, but the higher one is quite speculative.
The reason behind these wide variations is the uncertainty surrounding the link between deforestation and climate change. Studies on both tropical and temperate forests have found some positive links between the two, but the majority of research has been done on tropical deforestation.
The Role of Clearing Land for Agriculture
We’re all familiar with the negative effects of deforestation on the environment. After all, that’s what happens when you clear land for farming: trees get cut down and tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere.
While cutting down trees may sound like a good thing, it’s actually a very bad thing for the environment. The clearing of land for agriculture usually involves the clearance of trees and other vegetation. As the land is cleared, the stored carbon in trees and other plants is released into the atmosphere.
The clearing of forests for other uses also releases stored carbon, but to a lesser extent. The main advantage of forest over cropland is its ability to store carbon. However, deforestation also affects this “carbon sink” capacity: if 50% of the carbon in tropical forests is released into the atmosphere through deforestation, then the amount stored by the remaining 50% of forested land is decreased.
Consumerism and the Constant Need for New Goods
Trying to limit the consumption of goods and services to stay competitive in a globalized economy can be difficult. When you need new gadgets or clothing, you want to buy them as quickly as possible. That’s why many of us try to avoid buying things that require a lot of maintenance — like furniture, vehicles, or secondhand clothes — and focus instead on getting new stuff that’s in high demand and can be quickly discarded or sold at a profit.
Unfortunately, this focus on selling new things can have a negative effect on the environment. When consumers buy new electronic devices, for example, they’re not just throwing away money: they’re also throwing away essential components like lead, tin, and cadmium.
Rapid Development and the Rise of Mega-Infrastructure
When it comes to the link between deforestation and climate change, there’s also the issue of rapid development. Many think of tropical deforestation as being linked to agriculture, but it can also occur in other landscapes, such as savannas or tropical forests. It’s important to remember that as soon as a landmass is cleared for agriculture, it becomes unsuitable for other uses. Next thing you know, you have a forest on one side of the landscape and a field on the other. When this happens, not only are the carbon emissions from clearing land for agriculture higher than if the land was left alone, but also the land is less able to absorb carbon. As a result, the forests become more susceptible to wildfires and other forms of destruction, and the land loses its fertility and productivity.