The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines deforestation as the "permanent removal of standing forests." The removal, however, occurs for a variety of different reasons and has a variety of devastating consequences.
Deforestation is the clearing, destroying, or otherwise removal of trees through deliberate, natural or accidental means. It can occur in any area densely populated by trees and other plant life, but the majority of it is currently happening in the Amazon rainforest.
The loss of trees and other vegetation can cause climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems for indigenous people.
Deforestation occurs for a number of reasons, including: farming, mostly cattle due to its quick turn around; and logging, for materials and development. It has been happening for thousands of years, arguably since man began converting from hunter/gatherer to agricultural based societies, and required larger, unobstructed tracks of land to accommodate cattle, crops, and housing. It was only after the onset of the modern era that it became an epidemic.
One of the most dangerous and unsettling effects of deforestation is the loss of animal and plant species due to their loss of habitat; not only do we lose those known to us, but also those unknown, potentially an even greater loss.
The trees of the rainforest that provide shelter for some species also provide the canopy that regulates the temperature, a necessity for many others. Its removal through deforestation would allow a more drastic temperature variation from day to night, much like a desert, which could prove fatal for current inhabitants.
In addition to the loss of habitat, the lack of trees also allows a greater amount of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. Presently, the tropical rainforests of South America are responsible for 20% of Earth’s oxygen and they are disappearing at a rate of 4 hectares a decade. If these rates are not stopped and reversed, the consequences will become even more severe.
The trees also help control the level of water in the atmosphere by helping to regulate the water cycle. With fewer trees left, due to deforestation, there is less water in the air to be returned to the soil. In turn, this causes dryer soil and the inability to grow crops, an ironic twist when considered against the fact that 80% of deforestation comes from small-scale agriculture and cattle ranching.
Further effects of deforestation include soil erosion and coastal flooding. In addition to their previously mentioned roles, trees also function to retain water and topsoil, which provides the rich nutrients to sustain additional forest life.
Without them, the soil erodes and washes away, causing farmers to move on and perpetuate the cycle. The barren land which is left behind in the wake of these unsustainable agricultural practices is then more susceptible to flooding, specifically in coastal regions.
As large amounts of forests are cleared away, allowing exposed earth to whither and die and the habitats of innumerable species to be destroyed, the indigenous tribes who depend on them to sustain their way of life are also irreparably damaged.
The loss of forests has an immediate and direct effect on their lifestyle that we in the modern world, despite our own dependency on what the rainforest provides, will never know. The level of immediacy is exponentially greater.
The governments of nations with rainforests in their borders also attempt to evict indigenous tribes, and often succeed, before the actual clear-cutting begins. One of the pre-emptive effects of deforestation.
Pachamama Alliance has been working with the Achuar people of the Ecuadorian Amazon for over 17 years to defend their homelands and the lungs of our planet. Their collective actions have lead to the creation of a number of different programs designed to resist environmentally destructive development, and defend the rainforest.