Deforestation have been occurring for thousands of years, both deforestation (illustrated in figure 1) which completely removes the forest cover and degradation (illustrated at figure 3) which maintains cover, but causes loss in carbon, are an important source of global warming pollutants as well as threats to biodiversity and the livelihood of humans.
Figure 1: Deforestation in Central Range Trinidad and Tobago
Source: Rampersad, T; 2007
Deforestation has gained momentum in the 20th century and particularly in the last half of the 20th century, because of relatively modern events. FAO FRA 2001 and 2010 reports indicates that there was considerable deforestation in the world during the years 1990-2010 but this is almost entirely confined to tropical rain-forest.
Although we are yet to get significant scientific information, many have claimed that the world is facing an environmental crisis as a result of the heavy deforestation, uncontrollable destruction of the forest has been ongoing and until recently it was impossible to comprehend the dimension. There also exist no quantifiable evidence to testify how much of the world’s rain-forest have already been destroyed and continues each year, but even though we cannot truly measure the damages to the forest, one fact is that tropical rain-forest is diminishing and the rate of destruction is escalating worldwide, claims are the 30% of the world’s forest are lost each year despite increased environmental awareness and activism.
Figure 2: Rainforest Deforestation
Source: Live Science, 2012
Deforestation is the conversion of forest to an alternative permanent non-forested land use such as agriculture or urban development. National Geographic 2015, states “that deforestation is clearing Earth’s forest on a massive scale often resulting in massive damage to the quality of land”, further stating that deforestation is often confused with forest degradation which occurs when the ecosystem functions of the forest are degraded but where the ocean remains.
Figure 3: Forest Degradation in India
Source: UNDP, 2007
Today approximately 3.9 billion hectares are covered by forest oppose to an original estimation of forest cover of approximately 6 billion hectares, an estimated loss in forest cover of approximately 2 billion hectares and rapidly expanding yearly.
Brazil, Canada, United States of America (illustrated at figure 4 the forest areas in green), Russia and China are considered the forest rich countries of the world with a combined accounting of 53% of the total forest area, with 64 other countries with a population of 2 billion people, have forest on less than 10% of their total land area and unfortunately 10 of these countries have absolutely no forest.
Figure 4: Forest Areas in United States of America
Source: New Hampshire Public Radio, 2015
Professor Myers one of the prominent authorities on deforestation warns that the overall annual destruction rates seems set to accelerate further and could double in another decade, with most deforestation occurring in temperate and sub-tropical areas, countries like Trinidad and Tobago are at greater risk of virtually losing all their forest within the next decade if current rates of deforestation are maintained.
2.0 CAUSES AND DRIVERS OF DEFORESTATION
The drivers of deforestation varies between continents while cattle (illustrated at figure 5 – cattle grazing in the forest) and soy are important in Latin America, palm oil and plantations are found almost only in Malaysia and timber in South Asia hence the particular importance of all forest around the world and the urgent need for its protection.
Figure 5: Cattle grazing in the forest
Source: Samuel, B; 2015
Global population growth, is not the most important cause of deforestation but urbanization, the question posed is can the world experience true advancement without modern urbanization. The struggle to save the world’s rain-forest and other forest continues. Distinguishing the agents of deforestation and its causes are very significant factors in understanding the major determinants of deforestation.
The agents of deforestation are the slash and burn farmers, commercial farmers, infrastructural developers, loggers and all others who cut down trees in the forest while the causes are whatever motivates an individual or organization to clear the forest this varies from quarrying (illustrated in figure 6) in Trinidad and Tobago, production of soy bean in Argentina, timber export in Malaysia, production of beef cattle in Brazil or palm oil production in Indonesia.
Figure 6: Quarrying in Trinidad and Tobago a major source of Deforestation
Source: EMBD; 2015
The two main forces driving deforestation according to Pearce and Brown, 1994
- Conversion of forest in to other uses such as agriculture, infrastructure, urban development, industries and others;
- Consideration of the forest in decision making process and the incorporation into the economic system to reflect the value of the environment through its many functions and how its removal would affect our daily life.
Direct Cause/Drivers of Deforestation
Expansion / Development of Farms
Approximately 60% of overall clearing of forest through slash and burn for agricultural development by raising or growing the crops until the soil is exhausted of nutrients and/or the site is overtaken by weeds and then moving on to clear more forest. Through a number of government incentives and untouched land full of nutrients Brazil is reporting the largest number of foreign farmers in history, although this would result in a surplus of food to also mean large area of land is cleared also.
This is most common in dry areas where pastures are degraded and subject to soil erosion. The clearing, cutting and overgrazing have converted large areas in China province Qinghai into a desert a resident are this area stated in the New York Times “The pasture here used to be so green and rich. But now the grass is disappearing and the sand is coming.” Huge flocks of sheep and goats strip the land of vegetation. In Qinghai the livestock population increased from 2 million to 18 million in 30 years, turning one third of the grassland area to desert because they can only sustainably support 5.5 million sheep.
This is one of the main tools used to clear the forest in preparation agriculture and developing pastures. Fire used responsibly can be a valuable tool in agricultural and forest management but if abused it can be a significant cause of deforestation.
Increasing population causes expanding cities and town that requires land to establish the infrastructure to support the growing needs which is done by clearing the forest. The construction of roads, railways, bridges, and airports, school and entertainment centres are necessary to maintaining daily life in these areas and brings increasing numbers of people to the forest frontier.
IMPORTANCE OF FOREST
Forest covers almost a third of the earth’s land surface providing many environmental benefits which includes a major role in the hydrologic cycle, soil conservation, prevention of climate change ad preservation of biodiversity.
Forest resources provide long-term national economic benefits, with 145 countries actively involved in wood production enhancing the life of its citizens. Deforestation is of great concern in developing countries as it shrinks areas of tropical forest and enhancing the greenhouse effect.
One of the biggest factors contributing to climate change is considered deforestation, since the absences of the carbon sink the forest impact on the global carbon cycle. Greenhouse effect involves radiation emitted from the sun and absorption by the earth, through this the planet Earth undergoes a delicate daily balancing act involving the radiation the planet receives from outer space and the radiation that is reflected back out, the Earth is continuously bombarded with an enormous amount of radiation, mainly from the sun, this solar radiation strikes the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of visible light along with ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR) and other types of radiation that are not visible by the human eye.
Thermal infrared radiation is absorbed by gas molecules and when occurring in significant quantity can force the climate system to alter and change. With the gases promoting this change in climate called greenhouse gases, now carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases act like a blanket, absorbing IR radiation to prevent it from escaping into outer space, with the excess effect gradually heating of Earth’s atmosphere and surface a process known as global warming, climate change and an enhanced greenhouse effect.
Decreases in Biodiversity
Forests protect the biodiversity and consequently deforestation and forest degradation destroys the biodiversity as a whole and habitat for migratory species including the endangered ones. The biodiversity loss and associated large changes in forest cover could trigger abrupt, irreversible and harmful changes. While National Geographic, 2012 claims that Seventy percent of the world’s plants and animals live in forests and are losing their habitats to deforestation. Loss of habitat can lead to species extinction and also has a negative consequences for medicinal research and local populations who rely on the animals and plants in the forests for hunting and medicine in which WHO, 2015 claims stand around 80% of the world population.
Soil Erosion and Water Cycle
The roots of trees act as anchor for the soil, without them the soil is free to wash or blow away, which could lead to growth problems for vegetation. These also bring about floods and droughts since forest regulates rainfall. One of the major importance of forest is that it regulates water cycles, with the removal of the forest the area would not be able to hold as much water as it should bring about droughts and excessive flooding (illustrated at figure 7).
Figure 7: Flooding in Glenceo Trinidad and Tobago
Source: Guardian; 2012
This would affect all living things through drinking water, fisheries and aquatic habitats, reduction of water recreation, and damage to crops and irrigation systems from erosion and turbidity. Worth noting is that urban water protection is potentially one of the most important services that forest provides. The major flooding is causes since the loose soil compaction is unable to absorb rain bringing about flash flooding as we experience constantly in Trinidad and Tobago.
There are a number of initiatives worldwide as everyone thing the most effective way to solve the problem of deforestation is through planting trees and although this would assist in the climate change issue for the most part it will not completely solve the problem. There is no general solution of strategies to repair the damage of deforestation without adequate policies and procedures to govern the use of the forest.
In India and China due to the number of deforestation leading to deserted areas the governments have started initiatives through the large scale afforestation programme and over the last decade registered a net gain in forest area.
In Brazil the government have implemented policies to manage protected rain-forest in efforts of managing the forest biodiversity, currently in the world the United States of America has the largest area of protected forest while Europe has the least.
Governments especially in Trinidad and Tobago can promote sustainable management of the forest through incorporating ecologically, economically and socially appropriate programmes. The environment must be considered in the price of advance and how it would affect humans, plant and animals. In Trinidad and Tobago in particular the government and all the country’s stakeholder must hold the quarry industry accountable for its massive deforestation of the Northern Range, especially since the damages would affect all of us.
Green India Mission has developed initiative to fight climate change through eco-restoration, this programme targets 20 million hectares by 2020 as it strives to restore degraded forest while protecting and enhancing relatively dense forest.
While reducing the demand for commodities that drive deforestation will be important to future successes, so will increasing the productivity of currently uses lands and directing agricultural expansion for grasslands rather than forest and while there are a number of policies available to protect the forest, they need to be adequately enforced.
There must also be increase awareness and sensitization at the local levels to encourage individuals to protect the environment since most slush and burn are undertaken by small farmers. It is understood that globalization and the increase of land scarcity poses a number of problem for the zoning of land use and spatial management in the future, and the interconnection of the world has allowed a farmer in the United Kingdom to relocate to Brazil in search of nutrient rich abundant lands, assisted by the government with a number of development incentives and grants.
The only real sustainable way of truly protecting the forest and minimizing deforestation if through community based forest management and equipped with the growing importance of the forest residents would understand why the forest needs to be protected.
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