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Causes and Effects of Deforestation

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Trees are one of the most important aspects of the planet we live in. Trees are vitally important to the environment, animals, and of course for us humans. They are important for the climate of the Earth, they act as filters of carbon dioxide, they are habitats and shelters to millions of species, and they are also important for their aesthetic appeal. However, the trees on our planet are being depleted at a very fast rate. According to some estimates, more than 50 percent of the tree cover has disappeared due to human activity.

Although humans have been practicing deforestation since ages, it was in the mid-1800s that forests began to be destroyed at an unprecedented rate. As a matter of fact, throughout the earlier part of the medieval age, Europeans used to live amongst vast areas of forested land. But later, they began deforestation at such a high rate that they started to run out of wood for cooking and heating. Also, due to the depletion of their natural habitat, wild game too began disappearing, which the Europeans largely depended upon for their nutritional requirements. Today, parallels can clearly be observed in the deforestation that is occurring in most developing countries.

One of the most worrying factors today is the massive destruction of the rainforests of the world, which is affecting the biodiversity adversely, as well as being one of the major contributory factors of the Holocene mass extinction that is ongoing.

What are the Causes of Deforestation?

The destruction of the forests is occurring due to various reasons, one of the main reasons being the short term economic benefits. Given below are some more common causes of deforestation:

Used for Urban and Construction Purposes: The cutting down of trees for lumber that is used for building materials, furniture, and paper products. Forests are also cleared in order to accommodate expanding urban areas.

To Grow Crops: Forests are also cut down in order to clear land for growing crops.

To Create Grazing Land: Forests are cut down in order create land for grazing cattle.

Used for Fuel: Trees are cut down in developing countries to be used as firewood or turned into charcoal, which are used for cooking and heating purposes.

Some of the other causes of deforestation are: clearing forests for oil and mining exploitation; to make highways and roads; slash and burn farming techniques; wildfires; and acid rain.

What are the Effects of Deforestation?

There are a number of adverse effects of deforestation, such as:

Erosion of Soil: When forest areas are cleared, it results in exposing the soil to the sun, making it very dry and eventually, infertile, due to volatile nutrients such as nitrogen being lost. In addition, when there is rainfall, it washes away the rest of the nutrients, which flow with the rainwater into waterways. Because of this, merely replanting trees may not help in solving the problems caused by deforestation, for by the time the trees mature, the soil will be totally devoid of essential nutrients. Ultimately, cultivation in this land will also become impossible, resulting in the land becoming useless. Large tracts of land will be rendered permanently impoverished due to soil erosion.

Disruption of the Water Cycle: Trees contribute in a large way in maintaining the water cycle. They draw up water via their roots, which is then released into the atmosphere. A large part of the water that circulates in the ecosystem of rainforests, for instance, remains inside the plants. When these trees are cut down it results in the climate getting drier in that area.

Loss of Biodiversity: The unique biodiversity of various geographical areas is being lost on a scale that is quite unprecedented. Even though tropical rainforests make up just 6 percent of the surface area of the Earth, about 80-90 percent of the entire species of the world exist here. Due to massive deforestation, about 50 to 100 species of animals are being lost each day. The outcome of which is the extinction of animals and plants on a massive scale.

Flooding and Drought: One of the vital functions of forests is to absorb and store great amounts of water quickly when there are heavy rains. When forests are cut down, this regulation of the flow of water is disrupted, which leads to alternating periods of flood and then drought in the affected area.

Climate Change: It is well known that global warming is being caused largely due to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, what is not known quite as well is that deforestation has a direction association with carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Trees act as a major storage depot for carbon, since they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is then used to produce carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that make up trees. When deforestation occurs, many of the trees are burnt or they are allowed to rot, which results in releasing the carbon that is stored in them as carbon dioxide. This, in turn, leads to greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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