What causes deforestation?

People have been cutting down trees for thousands of years [11]. Many areas have already lost most of their forest, especially in cooler areas like Europe [1]. Now, most deforestation happens in the tropics [1]. There are a few main causes of modern-day deforestation:

FARMING: around 80% of deforestation is to make way for new farmland [6]. Some of this land is farmed by people to produce food for themselves – this is ‘subsistence’ agriculture [6]. The rest is used to graze cattle, and grow crops for food, biofuels or fabric, that are sold for profit – these are called ‘cash crops’ [3,4]. Poverty drives some of this deforestation – poor people are forced to grow cash crops because they need the money to survive [3].

WOOD HARVESTING: local people cut down trees to heat their homes and cook; or large-scale “logging” to sell wood for profit, which is often done illegally [2].

MINING: causes around 7% of deforestation [6], and its impact is growing due to greater demand for minerals [2].

INFRASRUCTURE: expansion of towns can directly cause deforestation [6]. Road building can encourage people to settle near to forests, making them more likely to cut down trees [2]. Roads, railway lines, and shipping ports help transport harvested wood and other produce to be sold – this, in turn, makes deforestation more profitable [10].

FIRE: much fire is started by humans [15]. But climate change is also making forests burn more often and for longer [7,8]. In turn, burning forests release CO2, adding to climate change [7]. So, forest loss is both a cause and an effect of climate change! This makes a positive feedback loop: higher temperatures -> forest fire -> CO2 release -> higher temperatures (swipe for diagram!) [7,9]. This feedback loop is predicted to cause large portions of the world’s biggest tropical forest [5], the Amazon, to turn into dry savanna [12,13].

So: the underlying causes of forest loss are poverty, development, and climate change.

References

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