The Global Impact
If we lose our forests faster than they can regenerate, we will lose a large source of climate control that is essential for the balance of life on the planet, forest fires will release massive carbon dioxide into the air, global warming will increase, our oceans will become more acidic and we will lose much of our needed biodiversity. Our forests are essential and must be protected.
We need Trees for Oxygen
We all know how essential photosynthesis is – forests especially play a vital role. Forests absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis; trees store the carbon and then produce oxygen. The oxygen produced by forests is essential to human life. The trees in the Amazon forests alone, store 60 to 80 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.[25. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Sustainable development and challenging deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: the good, the bad and the ugly. 2007. www.fao.org] The removal of carbon dioxide from the air not only helps regulate life on earth, it also combats global warming.
South America lost 40 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2010—an area four times the size of Iceland.[26. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010.] We need every tree to store carbon and produce oxygen. Carbon dioxide has a life of 50 to 200 years in our atmosphere. As of 2005, our forests globally stored 638 billion tonnes of carbon.[27. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.] When our forests are destroyed, more carbon dioxide remains in the air which contributes to global warming and ocean acidification.
We know that we need our forests for climate control – but were you aware that deforestation is the second greatest cause of carbon dioxide pollution globally? Deforestation through the burning of forests for agriculture and livestock, contributes 17 percent of our greenhouse gases.
At 45 percent, the top global carbon dioxide contributor is our use of energy. The industrial and residential burning of coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
With increased carbon dioxide levels from deforestation and burning of fossils fuels, the oceans are becoming more acidic—already 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution—endangering the survival of ocean species and ecosystems.
Oceans absorb carbon dioxide in the air; however, the increased carbon dioxide levels from deforestation and burning of fossils fuels, is causing our oceans to become more acidic. Oceans are already 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution— this endangers the survival of ocean species and ecosystems.
It’s currently estimated that the world is losing around 137 plants, animal and insect species every day as a result of rainforest deforestation. That’s roughly 50,000 species going extinct every year.
Our forests are home to 90 percent of the world’s land-based biodiversity. The current rapid loss of species is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.[28. Word Wildlife Fund International. www.panda.org] Scientists expect two-thirds of the world’s species to be gone by 2100[29. Revolution.] – and they predict we are entering the sixth of the great extinctions.
Just a few of the animals being impacted or displaced because of deforestation are the orangutan, the Asian elephant, the giant panda and the chimpanzee.
Tropical rainforest soils are low in nutrients – it is the few inches of decaying leaves on the ground that feeds the forest. Deforested farmland does not last long: the poor soil does not support crops. When the crops die and the land is then used for cattle ranching because the soil can grow grass and nothing else.
Loss of the massive shelter provided by trees exposes the land to rain and wind, which wash and blow away the soil. Forests’ natural role in the water cycle is to absorb rainwater and release it slowly into rivers and the atmosphere. Without the trees to hold the moisture, or slow down rainfall, the nutrient topsoil is stripped. The soil becomes dry and rivers flood.
Appalling Examples of Deforestation
Although it is known that deforestation puts our soil, our biodiversity and atmosphere at great risk – our quest for progress and convenience continues to destroy our forests.
Alberta Tar Sands: Environmental Destruction
The Alberta Tar Sands is the most environmentally destructive project of its kind on the planet[30. Revolution] and one of the largest industrial projects on Earth.[31. University of Alberta] Vast amounts of boreal forest—the second largest intact forest in the world—are cleared. The open pit mines cover an area bigger than Greater Vancouver and[32. dirtyoilsands.org] toxic ponds holding processing waste are so big they can be seen from space.[33. Revolution]
Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, are 96 percent of Canada’s oil reserves.[34. energy.alberta.ca/oilsands/791.asp] Globally, Canada has the third-largest proven oil reserves. Tar sands’ operations are producing up to 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year[35. Revolution] and are expected to become the largest North American industrial contributor to global warming.
Madagascar: Rice and the Extinction of the Baobab Tree
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and is home to an incredible mosaic of species. Once 90 percent forest, Madagascar now has less than 15 percent forested land. Of the more than 200,000 known species found on Madagascar, about 150,000 exist nowhere else.
Madagascar’s forests are being destroyed by local peoples looking to grow food for themselves and by corporations supplying international markets, such as rice. However, large-scale plantations owned by international corporations dominate and the land for locals is limited. Agave plantations, for the production of sisal, are common. Sisal is sold worldwide as a sustainable fibre that can be used in rugs. Loss of forest, a growing population and land owned by foreign companies, means many families must rely on international support for food. As consumers we must be aware of what the real impact of products that claim to be sustainable are.
Ironically, locally grown rice is exported while Malagasy children receive imported corn from the United States. The people of Madagascar lack nutritionally rich food, and depend on aid, because corporations have taken over much of the land of the their country.
Link to video: “Saving Madagascar’s Forests” produced by National Geographic.
Deforestation for agriculture in Madagascar is eroding the soil and as the forest canopy disappears – the nutrient-rich red soil is being washed away into the rivers by the rain and wind. The ancient baobab trees, from the eastern forests of Madagascar, are on the brink of extinction. The baobab tree can grow nearly up to 100 feet and their swollen trunks can store as much as 31,700 gallons of water. Some of the oldest are said to be 2,000 years old. During the life of one baobab tree human population has risen from 300 million to 7 billion; we’ve consumed most of our life support system, fish, and food and colonized every continent.[36. Revolution]
Deforestation in Madagascar is largely the result of three activities: slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and the production of fuel, wood and charcoal for cooking fires.
Brazil: Lost Amazon
Brazil is home to the world largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon, where more than 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen is made. Between 1990 and 2005, Brazil lost 42,330,000 hectares of forest, roughly half the size of Ontario, making it the largest deforested area in the world.
A video showing and explaining the destruction occuring in the South American Rainforest. http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=226836
Brazil set a target for 2020 to reduce deforestation by 80 percent from levels in 1990. Yet after years of decreasing deforestation, we are losing the Amazon rainforests once again. Changes in regulations, new industrial projects such as hydroelectric dams opening up forested areas and high prices for agricultural products are increasing levels of deforestation. Brazil is the world’s leading orange producer, supplying one-third of the world’s oranges; has one of the largest livestock populations; and a leading producer of ethanol from sugarcane. From September to December 2012, an area twice the size of Toronto was cleared in the Brazil rainforests.
Brazil is home to the majority of South America’s rainforest, so it could be an example, or a leader for the future of rainforests. Brazil, and its supporters, need to regulate the use of their rainforests and halt deforestation.
Link to video www.cnn.com
What have we lost?
We are losing our forests at an alarming rate: more than 13 million hectares of forest are lost each year.[37. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. State of the World’s Forests 2012.] When we lose our forests we also lose species and resources, the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans are altered and ecosystems are damaged.
Although, forests currently cover four billion hectares – 31 percent of the world’s land area – it’s the quality and size of forest that matters. Primary forests are unaffected by human activity, they sustain biodiversity and protect a range of animal and plant species – such as the lynx, a large predator in Canada’s boreal forest. Canada is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s remaining intact primary forests.[38. Greenpeace. www.greenpeace.org]
The world’s forests most in danger from deforestation are in tropical and sub-tropical countries: 72 percent of Indonesia’s forests have been lost[39. Greenpeace International. www.greenpeace.org] and 60 percent of Papua New Guinea ancient forests are gone.[40. Greenpeace Australia. www.greenpeace.org/australia] Right now there are less than 10 percent large-scale primary forests unaffected by human activities in the world, and 90 percent of forests are small, highly fragmented with altered ecosystems. We need our primary forests and time is running out.
Now that you know how vital our forests are, and the impact agriculture and consumerism is having on this essential land how will you take action? The land can be worked responsibly, we can all make smart consumer choices and put our forests first.