Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Staggering Outlook on the Current Effects of Deforestation

     Deforestation is killing the earth in more ways than one. This is truly a global threat.                
            It’s happening right now, somewhere in the world, as you read this: deforestation. Forest loss is a major issue across the globe today and the effects of it have only just begun. We do not appreciate the environmental balance forests provide. Forests control precipitation patterns, absorb CO2, and allow for greater biodiversity –yet, deforestation has increased with weaker regulations and popular demand for products such as those produced from Palm oil.
            Indeed, forests are directly involved in delivering dependable precipitation. Trees draw up water from the soil and transpire it into the atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest transpires 20 billion tons of water every day. Water in the atmosphere exhibits “biotic pumping” by creating a low pressure system that pumps moisture from the ocean inland. Deforestation damages this system and shuts down the “pump.” In Brazil, this has led to widespread drought. However, it doesn’t stop there--deforestation in the Amazon could potentially cause droughts in places like California, as Texas and New Mexico are already experiencing increased droughts. Changing the water cycle enough in the Amazon could shift global weather patterns, which in turn would lead to climate instability.
            Additionally, if deforestation continues at its current rate, over 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere by 2050. Normally, forests act as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen to purify our air. K Valentine cites a study that suggests putting a price on carbon to cut the rate of deforestation and benefit the climate. It is a relatively low-cost method of reducing overall emissions for countries--especially if wealthier countries paid tropical countries not to cut trees.
            Deforestation is destroying the world’s biodiversity. Take, for instance, the orangutan whose numbers were 230,000 a hundred years ago. Today, less than 50,000 remain due to forest loss in Southeast Asia. In 25 years orangutans could be an extinct species in the wild as their survival is wholly dependent on the fate of the rainforests.
            When compared with undisturbed forests, those that are disturbed have a strong loss in biodiversity. The lower species diversity in disturbed locations does suggest that many species can only inhabit pristine locations. Interestingly, some disturbed forests can still maintain 80% of the species that are in undisturbed forests--certainly a hopeful discovery. It is crucial that forest reserves be spread out in a network, rather than in one small region. This prevents species from going regionally extinct. Thus, isolated reserves as well as private land already disturbed must be conserved.
            Sadly, the Brazilian Amazon actually experienced a 16% increase in forest loss from August 2014 to August 2015. For almost a decade, deforestation in the region had been on a decline, then two spurts occurred in the past three years. The government’s efforts to combat loss of forest have had little effect. Yet, the government can be to blame for not enforcing regulations and allowing the construction of roads and other infrastructure projects through rainforests. A faltering economy also pressured illegal timbering and clearing of land for livestock and agriculture.
            Whether or not we have participated in cutting down forests, we are still influencing it in many of the products we purchase. Palm oil has become a $44 billion-a-year industry and is the number one cause of forest loss in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Palm oil and its derivatives can be found in thousands of products sold across the world--in fact more than half of consumer goods. Unfortunately, since 1990 its consumption has quintupled and its demand is only growing. The U.S. and Europe are among the top consumers. Every hour 300 football fields of rainforest are cleared for palm oil plantations. There is certainly no slowing this industry anytime soon, so the future of Southeast Asia’s forests seems bleak.  

            Clearly our forests are crucial to survival of mankind, wildlife, and really the entire planet. This is a global fight, so we need commitments from tropical nations to reduce greenhouse emissions from deforestation. Additionally, as individuals and consumers, we can change our buying habits and only support products produced with zero contribution to deforestation.

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