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Essay: The Negative Effects of Deforestation on the Environment: Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Contributing to Global Warming

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Though we may not always realize it, the natural beauty of our environment and the forests that cover the Earth’s surface are vital to flourishing life on Earth. Without the forests, many forms of life could no longer survive on our planet. Forests cover a hefty 31% of the Earth’s land area (“Deforestation”). In addition to the amount of land that forests cover, they also house 80% of Earth’s land and plant animals (“Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet”). The sad reality of the situation is that deforestation is occurring at a rate of about 46-58 thousand square miles per year and is disturbing many of our land ecosystems (“Deforestation”). There are multiple different forms of deforestation, but a few prominent, recurring examples include fires, clear cutting, ranching and development, and logging (“Deforestation”). Many of the trees that are cut down don’t necessarily need to be removed, but are removed only to keep up with consumer demands. The impacts of deforestation have negative effects on the environment such as increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and increased ocean acidification.
A major effect of deforestation on the environment that is often overlooked is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the cutting of trees. Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gases can play a major role in the increasing temperature of the environment (“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data”). Forests are a source of carbon emissions, which make up the largest portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon makes up 76% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, but in the United States alone in 2015, carbon dioxide emissions made up a whopping 82% of all greenhouse gas emissions (“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data”). When forests are still standing, they act as a carbon sink by taking in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and removing them from the environment, however, they become a major source of harmful emissions when deforestation occurs (“Deforestation”). Deforestation is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for about 15% of these emissions (“Deforestation”). The increase in greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere has contributed to recent patterns of global warming, as well as weather and water patterns, including an increased likelihood of severe weather (“Deforestation”). Because the increase in carbon dioxide emissions increases global warming, it also changes the sea surface temperatures as well as the sea levels. The overall warmer environment has contributed to the melting of the glaciers in the arctic over the years, which has caused the sea level to rise as well as the temperature. The rising sea temperature can affect many marine species because they are not used to the warmer temperatures and have a difficult time adapting to the change. A secondary effect of global warming is that changes in climate affect the availability of food and water for many species (“Deforestation”). This lack of food and water can be detrimental to species survival. By simply decreasing the rate at which deforestation is occurring, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions could be greatly reduced and lead to a healthier and safer environment for all species on planet Earth.

Another major effect of deforestation on the environment is soil erosion. Soil erosion can cause innumerable problems for agriculture, the health of our water systems, air pollution, and the future health of soil on Earth. It is estimated that about 40-50% of soil erosion is caused by humans (“Effects of Soil Erosion”). Whether people realize it or not, they contribute to soil erosion when they clear land for agriculture, or development. These detrimental effects that soil erosion has can occur due to deforestation because the trees roots hold soil in place and play a major role in the health of the soil. When the roots are removed from the soil, it makes the soil more vulnerable to erosion since the roots are no longer present to keep the soil in place. The vulnerable soil from deforestation means that the topsoil is more susceptible to being blown away. This causes problems for the agricultural industry because the top-most layer of soil is removed, which is also the most fertile and houses all the nutrients and minerals necessary for the health and well-being of crops (“Effects of Soil Erosion”). When the top layer of soil is removed, it causes rills and gullies to form. A rill is a channel in the soil that is caused by flowing water, but when they become deep enough and are not as easy to fix, they are known as gullies (“Types of Erosion”). The lack of ability to continue agricultural practices is harmful to the economies of most nations, but particularly the economies of developing nations that depend on agriculture for the majority of their income. Soil erosion can also play a role in the health of our water systems. When the topsoil is loosened due to the tree roots being lifted, it makes the soil more prone to erosion in the form of runoff. Runoff leads to unwanted chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers winding up in the water systems. These unwanted chemicals degrade the quality of the water and can in turn, harm many species of marine life that live in these waterways. The loose soil can also cause problems with air pollution. Because the soil is loosened up, the soil is more likely to be taken up into the air in the form of dust due to wind (“Effects of Soil Erosion”). Another problem with this soil being taken up into the air is that it could have harmful chemicals that could be detrimental to humans and animals health if it is in the air that they are breathing, but can also lead to irritation of the skin if humans come in contact with these particles. Lastly, soil takes hundreds of years to form and be replaced, so the constant deforestation does not give soil long enough to recover and reform (“Effects of Soil Erosion”). This can be problematic especially for the agriculture industry and nations whose economies depend on agriculture to be successful. Though soil erosion doesn’t seem like it could be all that harmful to normal life on Earth, it has many underlying effects that are often overlooked.

One of the more obvious effects deforestation has on the environment is the loss of habitats and in turn, the loss of biodiversity because so many species lose their homes and, therefore, often face extinction or endangerment. Along with providing shelter to animals in the rainforest, the leaves of the trees also help to regulate the temperature near to the ground because they block some of the incoming sunlight and keep it from getting too warm which protects the species who cannot survive in such high temperatures (“Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet”). The tropical rainforest region near the equator is home to the greatest number of species (“Deforestation”). This region has the highest biodiversity, so deforestation in this region particularly leads to millions of homes being lost and species facing extinction. Not only do the forests provide a home for plants and animals that live outdoors, but also the trees provide oxygen for humans and the lumber is used for human purposes, such as heat sources and building homes. Depleting the resources we have at a higher rate than they can be replenished is going to cause negative future effects for humans because they will have to find alternatives to lumber and wood sources because the forests are being cut down at such a high rate. Loss of biodiversity may not be such an obvious consequence of deforestation because generally animals can reproduce at a much higher rate than plants can, but the loss of biodiversity can greatly disrupt the ecosystems of the forest because each species depends on one another (“4) Consequences of Biodiversity Loss”). If one species goes extinct, the other species who depend on this particular species is likely to also die off because their food source is gone. Some species are not as important as others, however the loss of a keystone species would cause major problems within an ecosystem considering that a keystone species is one which a lot of other species’ depend upon. Some examples of keystone species include bees, hummingbirds, and elephants (YourDictionary). Another consequence of biodiversity loss in the rainforests is the foods which they provide us with. Some of these foods rainforest species provide us with are coffee, tea, pineapples, sugar, and more (“Tropical Forests in Our Daily Lives”). If biodiversity continues to be lost as a consequence of deforestation, our choices in variety of food will decrease, more species will go extinct which will disrupt ecosystem quality, and biodiversity loss can lead to overall poorer human health.

Deforestation also plays a role in ocean acidification which is the increase in acidity of the ocean water and the change in chemical makeup of the water, which affects marine life (“Ocean Acidification”). Because deforestation releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it increases the total m
of carbon dioxide in the environment. Since the industrial revolution, the ocean’s pH has decreased, or become more acidic, as a direct consequence of the increase in burning of fossil fuels which increases carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere (“Ocean Acidification”). The ocean is a good absorber of carbon dioxide, just as trees are when they are still standing and alive. The ocean absorbs about 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions, meaning that the more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the more acidic the oceans become (“Ocean Acidification”). Because deforestation increases the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, deforestation plays a role in the increasing carbon content of the ocean’s waters. The acidity of the ocean water poses problems for many marine animals, including coral (“Ocean Acidification”). This is especially important to note because coral is an indicator species because it is so sensitive to changes in the ocean water (“Coral Indicators to Assess Reef Health”). When something is not right in the water, the coral loses its pigment and shows that the water is not optimal for marine life (“Coral Indicators to Assess Reef Health”). Not only does ocean acidification change the physical characteristics of organisms such as coral, but it can also affect the ability of many fish species and their predator instincts (“Ocean Acidification”). This in turn affects their ability to survive since it decreases their ability to find food. Not all marine species are negatively affected by ocean acidification, in fact photosynthetic organisms may benefit from it because carbon dioxide is vital to their survival (“Ocean Acidification”). Since ocean acidification benefits some species, but harms others, it can cause problems within the food webs and throw off balances. If one species goes extinct due to the changes in the ocean water and one thrives, it is not a good thing and does not indicate a healthy environment because all organisms play a role in their environment.

Though sometimes we may not realize it, deforestation has many devastating effects on the environment. Often times as humans, we think that we must cut down all these trees for paper products, for lumber, and other resources, but we don’t think much about the environmental consequences of our behaviors. This oblivious nature of humans is the very thing that is slowly destroying our environment. Deforestation has major negative effects on many varying aspects such as the biodiversity, especially of the tropical rainforests, the gases that make up our atmosphere, the quality and abundance of our soil, and the quality of our ocean waters and the species within it. There have been attempts at making change to the severity of the impact humans place on the environment. One such attempt is the Lacey Act which is helping to combat deforestation problems. The Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to include the banning of illegal trafficking of plants and plant products (“U.S. Lacey Act). There were two main changes made to the law in 2008 that applied to deforestation. The first change was that you were no longer able to trade plant or plant products that are harvested illegally (“U.S. Lacey Act). Secondly, it said that you must declare the scientific name, quantity, value, and country of harvest for certain products (“U.S. Lacey Act). The changes made to this act in 2008 apply to deforestation because often trees are cut down illegally and without real reason. This is destroying the environment and the Lacey Act is helping to eliminate the illegal deforestation that is occurring worldwide because the potential effects of deforestation are finally being regarded as detrimental and scientists are beginning to notice environmental changes due to deforestation. If deforestation can be eliminated or slowed, the Earth would be an overall healthier and more beautiful place for humans and animal species, since there would be less carbon dioxide in the air we breathe and there would be more plant and animal life that is able to survive.

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