DEFORESTATION IN TROPICAL RAINFOREST

Abstract

The earth was covered by 14.8 billion of acres of forest 8,000 years ago, now only 8.6 billion acres remain due to deforestation. As a result of human exploitation, high rates of deforestation occurred during the last 50 years. Recently, the major causes of deforestation include agriculture (64%), logging industries (18%), fuel wood collection (10%), and ranching (8%) . Although deforestation meets some human needs, it also has several consequences. Research has shown that two-thirds of Central America’s lowland rainforests have been turned to pasture areas for raising beef cattle since 1950, over 80% of world’s tropical rainforests have been degraded by logging, agricultural processes and shift cultivators cause 60% of forest loss. Like all green plants, tropical forest trees take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and release small amounts of carbon dioxide during respiration. Surplus carbon dioxide released is stored and helps the plant to grow. When trees are cut or burnt down, the stored carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere hence contributing to global warming. As a result of numerous deforestation, more carbon dioxide is released which is one of the greenhouse gasses responsible for warming up earth’s surface and lowering atmosphere natural temperature. Rainforest is an important resource and if deforestation does not cease, they may become extinct.

Introduction

Deforestation is the removal of forest and conversion of land to non-forest use. Some examples of deforestation include the conversion of forestland to farmland, or ranch, or urban use and foreign debt. Problems caused by deforestation include soil erosion, flooding and global climate change. There has been plenty of research undertaken on deforestation and its causes, as this literature is reviewed, it is noticed that a lot of scholars agree on several aspects of deforestation, however, there are some aspects on which scholars have disagreed, and these shall be covered in the review. 

Causes of deforestation in tropical rainforests.

Research has shown that deforestation can either be caused by natural or man-made factors, often, it is a combination of the two factors. An example of natural causes include; wildfires and natural disasters while manmade factors include overgrazing which may prevent young trees from growing. 

Logging

This is one of the common cause of deforestation. Commercial logging is cutting down of trees for sale as timber or pulp. Logging can occur selectively whereby one valuable tree species is cut or by cutting all trees. Commercial logging uses heavy machinery such as bulldozers, log skidders and road graders to remove cut trees and build roads, which is damaging to a forest.

Cattle ranching

Cattle ranching is another major cause of deforestation especially in South and Central America. According to statistics taken in 1989, cattle ranching accounts for 15,000km^2 of rainforest lands. There are also 100,000 beef ranchers alone in South America’s Amazon region. Research has shown that since 1950, two-thirds of tropical rainforests in Central America has been turned into pasture areas for beef cattle. Overgrazing is another problem which has been related to cattle raising.

Shifting cultivators

Shifting cultivators cause about 60% of all tropical rainforest loss through agricultural processes. There are two types of shifted cultivators; the native indigenous communities who have lived in the forest for thousands of years and the landless peasants who have flown from urban areas in search of land. The indigenous tribes of the rainforest use slash-and-burn techniques to clear land for farming. It is a form of sustainable agriculture however, the rainforests are being cut down faster than they can regrow by these cultivators. The landless people from urban areas are much more destructive in the forest than the native people. Although both of them destroy the forest, the landless people tend to search for fertile land destroying the soil without using soil regenerating methods.

Fuelwood collection

According to research, 2.2 billion people in 63 developing countries could not get enough fuelwood to meet their basic needs hence consumption of wood increased. Fuelwood shortages, overpopulation, and poverty, largely contribute to deforestation to meet major basic needs.

Effects of Deforestation

Deforestation has both positive and negative impacts on people, climate, and the environment. Loss of habitat is one of the important effects of deforestation as shown from reports and research. Tropical rainforest cover 7% of Earth’s dry land . Forests harbor half of all species on earth. Deforestation leads to loss of habitat for animal and plant species causing some to become extinct. The removal of trees in the rainforest which provided shelter to the animals and canopy which helped to regulate temperatures would cause more drastic changes. The variations in temperature from day and night would make it impossible for the current inhabitants to survive there .

When trees are cut, carbon dioxide within them is released into the atmosphere as part of the carbon cycle. Since there are reduced trees, this added carbon dioxide is left in the atmosphere thus contributing to the greenhouse gasses. Research has shown that 20% of South America’s tropical rainforests have contributed to earth’s oxygen and disappeared at a rate of 4 hectares a decade. If these rates are not reversed and stopped, more consequences would be experienced.

An interruption in the hydrology cycle is a negative effect of deforestation. Trees help to regulate water cycles and control water levels. Deforestation causes fewer trees hence less water, drier soils and inability to grow crops . 

Soil erosion and flooding

Rainforests absorb rainfall and prevent flooding by releasing it slowly into the rivers and streams. As a result of deforestation, trees are not present to absorb rainfall hence causing soil erosion, siltation of rivers and flooding.

Destruction of homelands

Tropical rainforests are home to millions of indigenous people who make their living through subsistence agriculture, hunting and gathering. Deforestation by loggers, refugees and colonizers has caused conflicts. These are in the form of animal conflicts and indigenous people. The destruction of forests has an immediate and direct effect on the indigenous people .

Dissent

Some of the positive impacts include the provision of timber, the creation of employment for people working in the paper industries, enough land, and space for settling the rapidly growing population as well as provision of fuelwood .

Last but not least, deforestation has been viewed as a natural evolutionary process similar to the ice age. From this perspective, scientists argue that it is not a process that has to be controlled but rather one that must run its course. This same argument applies to global warming whereby a section of scientists argue that it is a natural phenomenon that is designed to happen much as the rain falls without interruption. The scientists argue that the real crime would be interfering with the natural cycle .

Gaps in research

To date, there has been little research to determine exactly what amount of deforestation is harmful to the environment. From the literature review, we have established that deforestation is inevitable and even necessary as a part of people’s lives. However, scientists cannot predict precisely what number of trees are proportional to global warming or drought. This gap has been evident and left to the wind, as a matter of fact, it is the reason behind the scientists’ inability to accurately predict the impact of deforestation on drought and global warming. Research in this area has been limited largely due to the massive nature of the projects and the vast and dynamic range of factors which influence deforestation or global warming. Control experiments are hard to pin down since the scientists cannot really stop people from cutting down trees in every jurisdiction on the planet. As such, the best the scientists can do is come up with educated guesses. 

My Stand on Deforestation

Deforestation is a common practice that is rapidly increasing. Despite government efforts to curb it, it has been persistent and murky in terms of regulation. I see deforestation as a harmful practice that is causing damage to the environment. However, several factors must be considered when handling the matter in terms of regulation. There cannot be a blanket regulation dealing with the issue, people’s way of life must be considered and respected as much as deforestation is curbed.

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