Forests provide habitats to 80% of Earth’s terrestrial species, & perform vital ecosystem functions that drive global food production, safeguard freshwater resources, & produce the air we breathe… what dangers do they face?
1. First, we need to explore how & why we harvest trees.
3.4 million cubic meters of wood are harvested per year. About 50% of this is burned as fuel or used to create charcoal, while most of the remaining half is used to make paper and wood products.
We harvest wood in a variety of ways, the most impactful method being a process known as clear-cutting. When a forest is clear-cut, all trees in a given area are cut, leaving a forest of tree stumps. While this is the most cost-effective, profitable system for lumber companies, it is also the most ecologically damaging. Less degrading forms of logging involve more selective methods that target mature trees, allowing forest ecosystems to regenerate.
2. Clear-cutting has led to severe deforestation.
World forests shrank by over 32 million acres per year in a 10 year span, between 2000 & 2010. This immense loss of global forests has widespread ecological implications, including decreased soil fertility, soil erosion, & sedimentation of waterways, all of which directly affect human activities, such as agriculture. Massive deforestation also causes species extinctions, as well as regional and global climate change.
In tropical rainforests, much of this deforestation is driven by population growth & the need for land to practice agriculture. Logging in boreal forests since the 1980s has also led to severe deforestation,
We often hear that agriculture is a culprit for deforestation, among many other environmental challenges, but why? Much of its impact is related to the complex social, political, and economic framework of our food system, Expansion of agricultural practices, such as crop cultivation and animal production, often forces the clear cutting of rainforest ecosystems.
Why does our food system cause deforestation? Deforestation due to agriculture is driven by a complex multitude of underlying factors, and requires examination of regional demographics, cultivation methods, and economics. Demographic factors, such as population growth and migration, that are driven by deeper social and political factors, oftentimes lead to land use challenges. Importantly, however, many factors, such as mechanization of agriculture and corporate consolidation of global food production, have led to unsustainable farming practices that heavily rely on monoculture cropping of a select few commodity crops: wheat, soy, & corn. These unsustainably harvested commodity crops form the foundation of animal farming and processed food production– and deforestation is an unfortunate consequence. One study found that from 2000-2011, commodity crop farming to feed livestock and create processed food caused 40% of tropical forest loss.
Other massive industries, such as palm oil production and cattle farming, also account for widespread deforestation.
For more on agriculture, explore my blog!
Our Role: We all eat. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to understand the practices we support with our purchases. Buy local, organic produce when possible, and if you’re looking for a reason to eat less processed food, meat, and dairy… well, here you go.
Oil exploration is one of the most heavily debated issues of our time ~ while we’ve been largely exposed to the social and environmental catastrophes that represent an unfortunate side effect of oil extraction, our society remains attached to petroleum in a variety of ways. Ridding ourselves of fossil fuels is not as simple as buying an electric car — petroleum is in our plastic, our ink, synthetic materials… still, however, moving forward into the future, we must understand its implications– one of which is deforestation.
While tropical deforestation is largely driven by agricultural influences, oil exploration, particularly through tar sand operations, has led to severe deforestation of Boreal Forests. To learn more about tar sand mining and its extreme impact on forests, water resources, and community health, read here.