Positive and negative impact of deforestation

Positive and Negative Impacts of Deforestation

It is a fact that our earth is quickly losing its green cover; forests provide us with valuable resources, help to recycle carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, provide natural habitat, and form the backbone of most significant ecosystems.

Given the fact that the world is currently facing global warming, it seems evident that governments worldwide would try to put a halt to the widespread deforestation. Sadly, the exact opposite has happened in many parts of the world. According to WWF, the earth loses 18.7 million acres of forest each year. This estimate doesn’t even account for the wildfires that are becoming more common every year in places like South America and California.

This is a serious issue, which is why we need to take a closer look at the positive and negative impacts of deforestation.

Positive and negative impact of deforestation

The Positive Impact of Deforestation

1.) It creates more farmable land.

Clearing forested area enables farmers to use the same, to grow various food crops. Prolonged forest cover packs topsoil in cleared areas with all-natural nutrients. The decomposing foliage fertilizes the soil for future use. Recently cleared land produces better yields of crops than already made regions that haven’t been taken care of properly.  

This land isn’t just useful for crops. Interestingly, the most common reason for deforestation is not for lumber or agriculture, like many believe. The most common reason for deforestation is to create grazeable land for livestock. Brazil uses eighty percent of its deforested land in the Amazon for raising cattle. Worldwide, we destroy over 6 million acres of land to raise cattle.  

2.) It makes space for people to live.

In many cases, people cut forests down for urban development. With these areas free, cities can expand housing, highways, and commercial space, contributing to strong local economies.   

As of April 2020, there are 7.8 billion people on Earth. Because of our booming population, usable land is becoming more and more scarce. While expanding into space is out of our reach, deforestation is one of the only ways for us to provide for our growing population.  

3.) It produces essential raw materials.

When we clear land, the trees aren’t simply thrown away. People need lumber to construct homes, commercial buildings, furniture, and hundreds of other products. When broken down into pulp, we can create paper and fabric. Wood is even an essential fuel for keeping warm and cooking in many parts of the world. Without the materials produced through deforestation, our world would be a very different place to live.

4.) Deforestation has fueled human development.

Wood from deforestation has played a critical role in human technological development. We’ve discovered wooden weapons used by Neanderthals dating as far back as 300,000 years. Spears, bows and arrows, axes, and farmings tools all required wood components and were critical for human development.

Later on, wood was an essential component in human exploration and migration. Early humans migrated to Australia and islands scattered throughout the Pacific ocean through boats. Boats drove trade in East Asia and Mesopotamia between early civilizations. Eventually, boats bridged the gap between the world’s many cultures from the age of exploration until now.  

This is particularly important for impoverished people, as clearing new land is sometimes the only way for them to make a living. Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru contribute the most to deforestation, primarily to provide for their impoverished populations.  

5.) It can help those in poverty.

One of the most overlooked pros of deforestation is its effects on impoverished populations. When in a pinch, subsistence farmers can sell charcoal and lumber, or even clear more land for agriculture. They can also clear land to raise livestock to supplement their earnings.  

6.) Deforestation creates jobs and tax revenues.

Deforestation occurs in areas with few unemployment opportunities. People that live in these areas are often undertrained and had little education. Logging jobs and potential mining jobs created by clearing forest can create high paying positions for these people. Even an increase in agriculture can potentially create new farming jobs in the area. These new jobs and commercial ventures also lead to increased tax revenues to fund social services and other government ventures.

The Negative Impact of Deforestation

1.) Loss of natural habitats.

Scientists say that we’re currently living in the Earth’s 6th mass extinction, and human activity is the primary driver. Of human activities, deforestation is a major driver, particularly for insects and plant life going extinct.  

When we clear forests, we’re disrupting animal’s lives and taking away places for them to live. A significant part of this process is known as habitat fragmentation. As we remove forestland, we’re forcing animals into smaller regions. It becomes harder to breed, and as their ecosystem shrink, it becomes harder to come by food and water. As a result, even when we think we’re leaving animals enough land to live on, we’re effectively killing them.

Through deforestation and other harmful practices, humans are driving at least 200 animals to extinction every year.   

2.) Deforestation contributes to climate change. 

Deforestation, both causes, and hampers our ability to deal with climate change. Carbon dioxide is the leading contributor to global warming, and plants are currently the only effective way to reduce their levels. Through photosynthesis, the world’s forests store and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Beyond not being able to absorb carbon dioxide, deforestation is a significant contributor to releasing harmful emissions into the atmosphere. People use a method called a slash and burn to clear the forest before use. In the process, fire releases carbon dioxide stored in the wood into the atmosphere. A staggering 10% of the Earth’s total emissions come from deforestation.

Deforestation can also result in other unintended consequences. As we mentioned, the livestock occupies the majority of land cleared. Raising livestock accounts for 14.5% of global emissions.  

3.) Loss of natural cover.

 Most forest lands come with thick foliage, which prevents sunlight from drying up the topsoil, thereby making them all the more fertile. Rapid deforestation and the loss of this natural cover often results in land drying up from consistent exposure to sunlight. This will deplete them of natural nutrients and soil, and potentially stop them from ever being able to grow forests again.

4.) Flooding, erosion, and droughts. 

Trees and plants serve as a buffer for soil erosion. The roots hold the soil together and slow runoff, preventing soil from being washed away. 

Preventing erosion is vital for many reasons. Topsoil contains most of the crucial nutrients that allow the land to grow healthy plants. Cleared land quickly degrades without proper care. The other reason is that plants and trees help to prevent flooding. Trees absorb water, drying out the dirt allowing it to absorb fresh rain.  

Counterintuitively, deforestation also contributes to drought. Thick foliage accounts for a large chunk of water evaporation, resulting in the formation of clouds and, eventually, rainfall. This is one reason why rain forests exist. Increased agricultural and animal usage also dry up water tables. Without the rainforest, the water can’t replenish, leading to drought conditions. One can only look to Eastern Africa, where droughts are common to see this play out.  

5.) It can lead to poverty and starvation

The poor are significant contributors to deforestation. Sadly, this isn’t done with any malice or profits in mind, but rather the survival of their families. Clearing the land of trees is a temporary fix, as the destruction of trees lowers the quality of their land. Eventually, farmers end up producing less while working harder, forcing them to clear more land to enable their families to survive. Many farmers will pull their children out of school to work the arm, all but ensuring poverty becomes generational.  

Because farmers grow to feed themselves and to sell, it can lead to food scarcity. Families will skip meals, and some will even starve to death. These exact conditions are what led to a famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011 that killed tens of thousands of people.  

6.) Land and trees are a finite resource.

There are a limited number of trees and land to grow them in the world. In the last 100 years, humans destroyed half of the world’s rainforest. At the rate we’re destroying forests around the world, there may not be any left in 100 years. Fires, like there were in the Amazon in 2019, may speed up this process. We have very little time to find an alternative or lose one of our world’s great treasures forever.  

7.) Increased frequency of pandemics and the introduction of new diseases.

As deforestation destroys animal habitats, we push them closer and closer to human life. This shrunken proximity makes humans more susceptible to zoonosis or the transfer of diseases between animals and humans. Over the last century, we’ve introduced diseases like rabies, Lyme disease, dengue, HIV, Avian flu, Zika, Swine Flu, malaria, and the West Nile virus from animals to the human population, killing millions of people.   

More recently, COVID-19 has swept the globe creating the most massive pandemic since the Spanish Flu. As dramatic as it may seem, but nature is sending us an important message that destroying the planet will only serve to destroy ourselves. As we destroy the Earth’s forests, pandemics will only become more frequent and devastating for us.

8.) Future medical advances will be lost forever.  

Using plants native to the rainforest and elsewhere, we’ve created hundreds of medical advances in the last century. Quinine, an essential treatment for malaria, is derived from the cinchona tree in South America. The active ingredient in birth control comes from wild Yams in Mexico. Curare lianas’ bark can treat diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Lou Gerighs. Over 7,000 medications come from plant material.

Scientists have thoroughly examined less than 1% of the plants in the rainforest. Just imagine what we’re giving up as we drive the world’s plants to extinction. The cure for cancer and millions of other breakthroughs could be hiding in plain sight. 

9.) Destruction of indigenous people.

Indigenous people in Latin America are dependent on the rainforest for their way of life. When the forest is destroyed, its ability to exist is also damaged. It destroys their culture, and in many cases, takes their lives. Indigenous activists attempting to protect their land, like Paulo Paulino Guajajara, are often killed by loggers or other commercial groups.  

While deforestation provides some economic benefits, the pros don’t outweigh the cons. If we continue on our path, we may doom much of the world’s animal life, and maybe even humans someday, to extinction. Our governments and citizens must take responsibility and step up our forest management. Time is running out, and we must do what we can before our world is unrecognizable.  

Alan Behrens

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