Deforestation

Deforestation is the cutting down of a forest for human activities. Once the trees are removed, the land turns into a non-forest area, which is generally used for agriculture. Usually deforestation comes to meet the greater need for food and wood, resulting from the growing population.

The Neolithic period is said to have seen extensive deforestation for farming land. In his book The History of Deforestation, the author Michael Williams says that "It is a common misconception that deforestation is a recent occurrence, gaining momentum in the tropical regions of the world since about 1950." According to Williams, deforestation came into existence probably some half-a-million years ago, when humans began to use fire deliberately. However, since the mid-twentieth century, the removal of trees has accelerated and the environment has been more affected compared to previous ages. As much as nine-tenths of all deforestation occurred before 1950.

Deforestation results in a number of environmental impacts. It has a serious negative effect on climate change in as far as rainfall is reduced and the amount of sunlight reflected from Earth's surface alters. Since deforestation dries out the soil, the risk of forest fires also increases. The clearing of trees also affects biodiversity and the quality of the soil. Forests absorb considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, but with their loss the emissions rise. Moreover, deforestation leads to adverse soil erosion, which eventually turns the land into a desert.

Causes for deforestation to happen are numerous, including logging, industrialization, agriculture, oil exploitation and human disasters. Logging can be tackled if the removed trees are replanted, thus averting the shrinking of forests. Illegal logging is a serious problem and governments need to adopt appropriate legislation. Legal logging should be carried out in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Fires that are starting naturally or caused deliberately are among the most frequent reasons for destruction of forests. Generally many areas quickly recover from fire because seeds, as well as some animals and plants, have natural defense mechanism. The need of land for agriculture is also a major contributor to deforestation.

People's attempts at tackling deforestation date back to ancient times. For example, in the 17th and 18th century in Tokugawa, Japan, the shoguns decided to replace the timber with other products, as well as to introduce more effective methods for farming the land. At the same time, Germany came up with silviculture, which is a practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of forests.

In order to cope with the problems caused by deforestation, people nowadays have already turned to reforestation and afforestation in many parts of the world. The restocking of already existing forests which have been depleted is called reforestation, while afforestation is the planting of trees in areas with no forests. Moreover, people have been developing further practices and initiatives for more intensive farming such as high-yield hybrid crops, greenhouses, autonomous building gardens and hydroponics. Thus, the land yields more and there is no need for a new territory to be deforested. The introduction of global certification systems such as PEFC and FSC is another way to protect forests. The certification systems create market demand for timber from sustainably managed forests.

Almost one half of the forests that ever covered the Earth have gone. Each year, some 16 million hectares disappear. Tropical forests are believed to be at serious danger. Tropical forests once occupied 16 million sq km, while today about 8-9 million sq km hardly remain. There are forecasts that tropical forests will never recover from deforestation, especially if the land is burned and the top soil is disturbed.

According to research conducted by different scientists, deforestation has not only climate-related, biological and economic impacts, but the cutting down of trees is also likely to result in new pandemics and spread fatal diseases among the human population since forests are habitats for many drugs that have not been explored yet. Ravinder Sehgal, associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University, has conducted a study showing that human health can be put at risk if habitats are destroyed. The extinction of irreplaceable species is a dangerous practice not only because of the risk of pandemic diseases, but also because that may lead to disruptions in the overall ecosystem.

About 50,000 species of plants and animals disappear because of deforestation every year. Moreover, almost two football fields are cleared every second. Deforestation is a major problem all around the world.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Disappearing Forests? Actions to Save the World's Trees
Docksai, Rick.
The Futurist, Vol. 47, No. 5, September-October 2013
The History of Deforestation
Williams, Michael.
History Today, Vol. 51, No. 7, July 2001
Deforestation, Environment, and Sustainable Development: A Comparative Analysis
Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi.
Praeger, 2001
Urban Growth, Farm Exports Drive Tropical Deforestation
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Manila Bulletin, February 8, 2010
Who's to Blame? Although the Main Causes of Deforestation Are Conversion of Land for Agriculture, the Effect of the Forestry Industry Certainly Shouldn't Be Underestimated
.
Geographical, Vol. 77, No. 4, April 2005
The Impact of Corruption on Deforestation: A Cross-Country Evidence
Koyuncu, Cuneyt; Yilmaz, Rasim.
The Journal of Developing Areas, Vol. 42, No. 2, Spring 2009
The Forestry Crisis as a Crisis of the Rule of Law
Segall, Craig.
Stanford Law Review, Vol. 58, No. 5, March 2006
The Politics of Conservation: Using International Carbon Trading to Protect Forests and Biodiversity
Laurance, William F.
Social Alternatives, Vol. 29, No. 3, Third Quarter 2010
Biofuels Boom Spurs Deforestation: Efforts to Slow Climate Change by Using Biofuels and Planting Millions of Trees for Carbon Credits Have Ironically Brought Major New Causes of Deforestation, Reports Stephen Leahy
Leahy, Stephen.
Pacific Ecologist, No. 14, Winter 2007
REDD + or Dead: The UN-Backed REDD + (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Scheme, under Which Developing Nations Would Be Paid Not to Cut Down Trees, Is Being Hailed as the Saviour of the World's Forests. but Is It Too Focused on Quantity Rather Than Quality? Mark Rowe Investigates
Rowe, Mark.
Geographical, Vol. 83, No. 6, June 2011
Cash Cropping, Farm Technologies, and Deforestation: What Are the Connections? A Model with Empirical Data from the Bolivian Amazon
Vadez, Vincent; Reyes-García, Victoria; Huanca, Tomás; Leonard, William R.
Human Organization, Vol. 67, No. 4, Winter 2008
Amazon Deforestation Destroys UK-Sized Territory
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Manila Bulletin, December 5, 2012
The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon
Lykke E. Andersen; Clive W. J. Granger; Eustáquio J. Reis; Diana Weinhold; Sven Wunder.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Deforestation and Reforestation in Namibia: The Global Consequences of Local Contradictions
McKittrick, Meredith.
The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1, January 1, 2011
Deforesting Malaysia: The Political Economy and Social Ecology of Agricultural Expansion and Commercial Logging
Onn, Lee Poh.
Journal of Southeast Asian Economies, Vol. 22, No. 3, December 2005
The Economics of Deforestation: The Example of Ecuador
Sven Wunder.
Macmillan, 2000
Himalayan Perceptions: Environmental Change and the Well-Being of Mountain Peoples
Jack D. Ives.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 3 "Status of Forests in the Himalayan Region"
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