Deforestation: Causes and Solutions

January 28, 2003
Deforestation is a major global problem with serious consequences to the planet. These consequences have negative effects on the climate, biodiversity, the atmosphere, and threatens the cultural and physical survival of indigenous peoples. Effects of deforestation are too great to continue destroying the forests.

There are many causes for deforestation. The first and most important cause is wood extraction. Wood has always been a primary forest product for human populations and industrial interests. Since wood is an important structural component of any forest, its removal has immediate implications on forest health. Intensive harvests can lead to severe degradation, even beyond a forests capacity to recover. When the soil has been stripped of its nutrients, farmers move further into the forests in search of new land.

And perhaps the worst culprit of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is cattle ranching. 38% of deforestation in the Amazon was due to large scale cattle ranching. Mining for valuable resources also plays a major role.

Deforestation has many devastating effects. It affects climate significantly, in part because the forest plays a major role in the water cycle, recycling rain back into the clouds as it receives rainfall. As a result, when the land is cleared, flooding and drought become serious problems, as rainwater travels quickly through the ground without the forest to regulate it.

The burning and felling of the forests is also exacerbating the Greenhouse Effect: Approximately 10% of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in 1987 was a result of the fires in the Amazon. It threatens the existence of indigenous peoples. There have been more extinction of tribal peoples in this century than any other, with Brazil losing 87 tribes between 1900 and 1950.

Deforestation robs the world of countless species, destroying crucial biodiversity and losing species with potential uses in medicine, agriculture and industry. Biodiversity is important because it contributes to resiliency.

At the close of the twentieth century, the world finds itself undergoing the most rapid and complete deforestation it has ever experienced under the human hand. Since 1950, a fifth of the world's forest cover has been removed. At least 55% of the world's 30 to 40 million hectares of the rare but incredibly productive rainforest have been cleared. Current rates of loss for rainforests and other ecosystems are over 20 million hectares a year, 40 hectares a minute.

According to reports by the World Resource Institute and Rainforest Alliance, tropical forests account for 80% of that loss. An area almost the size of Washington State is destroyed each year, and at current rates, tropical forests will be reduced by almost half from existing levels in the next 45 years. The long term effects of deforestation are far too great to continue devastating the forests.

Solutions Today, both biodiversity loss and global warming have become such clear dangers to our biosphere that international treaties have addressed them both. These include the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Additionally, Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 of the UNCED (the 1992 Rio Conference) has addressed the loss of cultural diversity associated with global deforestation. These treaties are the most visible manifestation of a growing recognition and acceptance of the mounting costs of deforestation - costs so high that they threaten the future of human civilization.