Effects of Deforestation: Impact on the Environment

Deforested trees

Deforestation has occurred to some extent for thousands of years.1 However, since the 1950s, the size and scale of deforestation have accelerated massively.2

The tropics have suffered the greatest losses.3 In a mere 70 years, more than half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed.4 The deforestation effects caused by this are extremely harmful to both the local environment and our planet.

What are the effects of deforestation?

Increased CO2 levels

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change.5 Trees act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.6 They use this to grow, sequestering the carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves, roots and the surrounding soil.7 This removes CO2 from the atmosphere and prevents it from trapping heat and contributing to global warming.8 When trees are cut down, left to rot or burned, they release the harmful CO2 again.9

Deforestation currently accounts for at least 20 per cent of all carbon emissions globally.10 

Soil erosion & landscape degradation

But, it’s not just the release of greenhouse gases that makes deforestation so harmful. It has destructive effects on the local environment too. For example, deforestation is a direct cause of topsoil erosion.11 

Indeed, in the past 50 years, half of the planet’s topsoil has been lost.12 By removing plants, particularly trees, it leaves no roots to hold the soil in place.13 This leaves the soil at risk of being washed away by rain or blown away by the wind.14 With the topsoil goes the nutrients necessary to regenerate future plantlife.15 

Desertification

Logging companies can also exacerbate this by compacting already thin soil with their heavy trucks.16 This further inhibits new plant growth.17 Moreover, as the nutrient-rich soil in a deforested area is washed away, it can enter waterways and disrupt food chains.18 It often leaves the area arid and can even lead to desertification.19

This is already occurring in the Amazon rainforest. The region has experienced severe droughts during the past decade due to deforestation.20 

What effects does deforestation have on the Amazon?

In the Amazon, deforestation is taking a heavy toll. Throughout the tropics, an area of primary rainforest – the size of 30 football pitches – is destroyed every minute.21 The world’s largest rainforest has lost at least 17 per cent of its tree cover over the past 50 years.22 As mentioned, this is releasing vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere and reducing the efficacy of the remaining trees for sequestering further carbon.23 But, it also has devastating repercussions for the flora and fauna that live there.

The Amazon is home to about ten per cent of the world’s species.24 At present, an estimated 137 plant, animal and insect species become extinct every day due to deforestation.25 This means that by 2030, as much as 45 per cent of the Amazon’s wildlife could be gone forever.26 The extinction of one species affects all the others that rely on it. Ecosystems depend upon biodiversity, and with every species lost, we are endangering all those that remain.27 

Furthermore, deforestation in the Amazon threatens the home and livelihoods of the people who live there. More than 30 million people live across this vast region.28 This includes 420 Indigenous communities who have inhabited the area for thousands of years.29 They depend upon the Amazon for their food, water and employment.30 Many of these forest communities and smallholder farmers are already extremely poor.31 Deforestation undermines the health of the rainforest and subsequently threatens the resources they rely upon to survive, such as açaí and Brazil nuts.32

There are, therefore, compelling environmental, medical and social reasons to protect and enhance the Amazon and other rainforests at all costs.

Sources

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