The long-term effects of deforestation
Deforestation is on the rise. Deforestation is the intentional clearing of forested land. A practice that is quite literally changing the face of the globe, deforestation, even when seemingly well-intentioned, has a ripple effect on the planet and its inhabitants, including human beings.
Forests can still be found across the globe, but The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States reports that around a billion acres of forest have been lost since 1990. And that deforestation is escalating in recent years, as Amazon Conservation indicates destruction of the Amazon rainforest rose by 21 percent in 2020.
Deforestation is often characterized as an unavoidable byproduct of a world with a rapidly rising population. But environmentalists warn that accepting deforestation as an inevitability is a mistake, as trees are vital to keeping the planet habitable for humans, animals and plant life. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund reports that forests are home to more than three-quarters of the world's life on land.
In addition to recognizing the vital role forests play in making the planet livable for a host of species, individuals can learn about the many ways that deforestation is adversely affecting the environment and, in turn, life on Earth.
Loss of species
Plants and animals that call forests home aren't just awe-inspiring, they're also vital to local ecosystems. Deforestation threatens those species because removing the trees from their natural habitats erases the canopy that regulates the temperature within the forest. According to the Pachamama Alliance, a global community dedicated to environmental sustainability, once that canopy is removed, the temperatures within forested areas undergo a drastic variation from day to night. That change could ultimately prove fatal for species that currently live in forests.
Animals and plants are not the only species whose health is adversely affected by deforestation. Humans are vulnerable as well. Deforestation forces animals and insects to seek new places to live, and the animal protection organization the Humane League notes that this leads them to migrate into human territory. Such animals can carry pathogens that can lead to a rise in zoonotic diseases, which are infectious diseases transmitted between species, such as from animals to humans or vice versa. In fact, in 2021 a report from the Harvard School of Public Health warned that forests must be protected to prevent the spread of potentially deadly zoonotic diseases.
A different though no less consequential byproduct of deforestation is the loss of income that it threatens for a significant percentage of the global population. A recent report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated that roughly one-quarter of the global population relies on forests to earn a living. As the global population grows, a higher percentage of individuals without an accessible way to earn a living could have dire consequences for the global economy.
Deforestation is on the rise, and its effects could be devastating to plants, animals and humans if the trend is not reversed.