Deforestation is the removal of indigenous forests by people who use the cleared land for purposes other than indigenous forest growth1. Forests are intricate ecosystems – in every forest, a myriad of lifeforms participate to maintain a balance necessary for the survival of the forest ecosystems as a whole. Individual forests, however, are microcosms that together form the air-purification mechanism of the macrocosm that is earth2; hence forests often being referred to as the lungs of the earth. Forests have for aeons played a crucial role in regulating the climate of the planet because they extract carbon from the atmosphere – the carbon identified above whose human-induced release is largely responsible for climate change.
According to the WWF (panda.org, already footnoted), the largest forest on Earth, the Amazon, “contains 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, the release of even a portion of which would accelerate global warming significantly.” The reality is that human human beings are deforesting a massive amount of the Amazon (and indeed the world’s forests at large), i.e. they are releasing a portion of the carbon and thereby accelerating global warming; as stated on the website, the Amazon has diminished by 17% during the past half-century. More information is available: “Currently, land conversion and deforestation in the Amazon release up to 0.5 billion metric tons of carbon per year, not including emissions from forest fires so the Amazon is a significant factor in regulating global climate.” Considering the alarming information offered above about carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and climate change, the Amazonian deforestation statistics are truly alarming; add the loss of biodiversity that accompanies deforestation to this ecological equation and the situation is even worse.
The Amazonian deforestation information above, however, is occurring alongside the depletion of the entire planet’s forests. According to earth-policy.org3, the annual net loss of forests between 200 and 2010 was 5.2 million hectares. As further pointed out on this website,
“Global rates of deforestation do not capture the full damage done to the world’s forests. Forest degradation from selective logging, road construction, climate change, and other means compromises the health of remaining forests. Each year the world has less forested area, and the forests that remain are of lower quality. For example, replacing natural old-growth forests with a monoculture of an exotic species greatly reduces biodiversity.”
Such information draws attention to the fact that deforestation is not a phenomenon that can easily be ‘undone’ or ‘corrected’; as clear from the above quote, the removal of natural forests is accompanied by the loss of the biodiversity of the natural forest; in a sense, the removal of the natural forest is tantamount to wiping away in one foul swoop several million years of the evolution of a network of interdependent lifeforms that cannot simply reappear ‘from the grave’, so to speak, if human beings simply were to regrow trees to replace some of those they chopped down . Earth is a synthesis of such networks; as human beings remove the individual organic components of the Earth system, so the overall planetary system weakens exponentially.
1https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/land_use/index.php?idp=49 accessed 16 May 2014
2http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_forests/importance/forestsairclimate/ accessed 16 May 2014
3http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C56/forests_2012 accessed 16 May 2014