Environmental dilapidation has always been a controversial issue since its devastating effects directly on humans are becoming increasingly prevalent in major cities. One of the main factors that are causative to this environmental predicament is deforestation. Statistics have shown that 17% of the Amazon biome, an equivalent of 1 020 000 square kilometres has already been lost (Wwf.panda.org, 2018) and this negative trend is expected to continue if no effective and practical measures are implemented. Considering the source of the problem, the continual presence of surging demands for commodities and unsustainable resource extraction have exerted adverse influence on the Amazon by speeding up the rate of deforestation.
Large-scale agriculture has been the biggest cause of tree loss in the Amazon rainforest for decades (Nationalgeographic.com, 2018). Studies from Brazil’s INPE institute suggest that cattle pasture accounts for 62% of the total cleared area, while soy plantations and slash-and-burn agriculture are another dominant drivers of deforestation in the region (Globalforestatlas.yale.edu, 2018).
The significant decrease in forest trees also occurs as a result of logging mismanagement and lack of control measures. Advances in technology such as more efficient machines and transportation coupled with the proliferation of wider roads have provided more access to remote rainforest areas, leading to the widespread of illegal logging. The flaws in government’s policies, established to battle unsustainable wood extraction further aggravated the situation.
Other human induced factors that exacerbate pressure on the Amazon include subsistence agriculture as part of colonisation programs, infrastructural development as well as mining sites and hydropower dams. To meet growing demands for food, timbre and other services, for an extensive period of time in history, humans have been taking forests for granted. Unless the remaining area of rainforest is preserved, climate change and other human induced natural disasters are predicted to turn the region into grasslands and savannah. (Collins, Crighton and McEwan, n.d.)
The immediate impacts of deforestation on the natural environment
Despite the conspicuous environmental concern of clearing forest land, unsustainable deforestation continues. This is due to the monetary benefits generated from resource extraction. The plantation of crops such as soya beans helps satisfy the needs of humans as the population expands. In addition, products from farm and timber from forest contribute significantly to the nation’s economic growth. As a result of humans facilitating current needs ignorant of future generations, the environment suffers from catastrophic short and long term damages.
One of the most dramatic immediate impacts is a loss of habitat for millions of species. According to the statistics provided by the World Wildlife Fund, 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and the rapid rate of deforestation destroys their homes. When the trees are cut down, animals are left with no food and they die of starvation. Another factor disrupting their habitat is the temperature extremes stemming from the deprivation of forest canopy, which can be harmful to plants and animals. These species provide aesthetic values, maintain the healthy balance of the ecosystem and we rely on their interconnections for the existence of the forest, therefore, the cost of biodiversity loss is much greater than the benefits from a competitive consumers market.
With forest loss, the local community suffers from irregular flow of clean water and increased frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought. The trees act as a natural filter, absorbing rain water and releasing it at regular intervals. By inflicting damage on this feature of tropical trees, the environment’s regulating function fails to moderate destructive flood and drought cycles.
Another role of trees in the forests is to anchor the surrounding land and the removal of them speeds up soil erosion, one of the major types of land degradation. Tree roots provide the land the structural integrity and support. Human activities such as land clearing accelerate the rate of erosion significantly, as soil is washed away by rivers and wind. Since the biospherical elements are closely linked together, the outcome of this land degradation may be the Amazon rainforest becoming desertified.
The long term impacts of deforestation on the natural environment
As aforementioned, taxonomic groups are facing higher levels of threat due to habitat loss. Consequentially, more species are considered threatened with extinction, as supported by the data commissioned by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Around 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every single day due to rainforest destruction. (Theamazonrainforest.org, 2018) This loss of biodiversity disrupts nature’s food chain, having far-reaching and serious environmental consequences for all human beings on Earth.
Widespread deforestation not only leads to more droughts as a result of the decline in rainfall, but also increases the severity of desiccation in the long term. Eventually, regions beyond the boundaries of the Amazon forest will be negatively affected. At the 1998 global climate treaty conference in Buenos Aires, Britain, a study conducted at the Institute of Ecology in Edinburgh, suggested that in 50 years due to shifts in rainfall patterns induced by global warming and land conversion, the whole area of Amazon rainforest could be lost.
In this context, it is also worth mentioning that changes in the natural landscapes have tremendously altered the system of soil salinity regulation. Since deep-rooted trees soak up rainwater and ensure that the salt levels remain deep under the ground, the removal of this native vegetation raises the water table and brings salt to the surface (Collins, Crighton and McEwan, n.d.). The rapidly increasing concentration of salt in the land has a clear negative impact on farming, river water quality and all the living organisms involved.
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Less rainforest coverage means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere—and increased speed and severity of global warming. One of the factors which have brought this about is the fact that the Earth’s natural sink function helps absorb carbon emissions from industrial activities. The process of cutting down trees not only involves releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, but its impact on the environment’s ability to mitigate these heat-trapping greenhouse gases is yet another contributor to environmental deterioration. The consequences of human changes to the environment
There is clearly a myriad of destructive outcomes arising from unsustainable land clearing. Deforestation is a major basis for increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, as mentioned previously, and it can result in significant shifts in the makeup of ecosystems and a loss of species. Researchers suggest that deforestation is one of the main drivers of a chain of environmental negative impacts; in other words, the act of simply cutting down trees is causative to land degradation such as increased salinity, soil erosion and ecosystem decline, deterioration in water quality and a poisoned atmosphere.
Aside from all the negative impacts on Earth listed above, one of the most prominent consequences derived from deforestation is the fact that our health is now paying a heavy toll for growing consumerism and profit-driven industries. Global warming has been a great concern internationally since all human beings on Earth are affected. Deforestation acts as a catalyst in the process of climate change, and its negative influences reach far beyond the Amazon region. Citizens in heavily industrialised countries are suffering from polluted, poor quality air, especially in nations that are ill-equipped to cope with this extensive change. Data according to the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that, rising temperatures is the most significant change among all climate-related projections. Supporting this statement are the statistics from the European commission: the number of heat-related deaths in some regions has increased while there is a decrease in cold-related deaths in others (Climate Action – European Commission, 2018). High temperatures, if persist for several days in form of heat waves, can be detrimental to all living organisms including humans.
The process of cutting down trees to meet up with the demands from consumers not only leads to species annihilation but also to the loss of the genetic diversity that is central to the survival of a species across generations. Extreme temperature and humidity are favourable conditions to the spread of diseases. When a small number of animals from the same species faces threat, if the genetic diversity level is low, the dangerous virus or parasite might eventually wipe out the whole species.
Human induced deforestation continues to rise regardless of the fact that humans are well aware of the environmental crisis which can happen as a result of deforestation. Failure to sustainably use natural resources, and in this case, timber, has contributed towards compromising the future generations’ ability to meet their needs for natural services. If things continue on their present course, the balance of nature will no longer be able to cope with the impacts of modern industrial development. Henceforth, it is crucial for humans to realise their responsibilities to use Earth’s resources in a sustainable manner.
Strategies to prevent further environmental degradation
As the environment becomes degraded and irreversible damages are being witnessed, over the past 50 years humans have begun to recognise the true values of ecosystem services and the importance of sustainable regulation of natural resources. Various strategies have been established and performed to minimise our impact and maintain the Earth’s ecological balance.
As regards the most appropriate response to this situation, one suggestion would be to carefully manage and control logging in the Amazon forest as well as other regions around the world. Legislation should be introduced to ensure that the number of trees that are cut down should not exceed the nature’s capacity to replenish itself. In order to perform this, governments need to impose stricter policies and regulations regarding continued deforestation practices. Better planning is also required—through investments in infrastructure and public demands strategies—so that profit from deforestation is maximised while the harmful effects are prevented. Placing monetary values on environmental service is another course of action that can be taken to slow the deforestation rate. Were the government to actively support this environmental cause, the situation would doubtless be ameliorated.
Secondly, conserving the remaining forest is a vital part in the battle to reverse deforestation. Selective logging and using timber grown in plantations rather than sourced from native forests are common applicable methods to alleviate the aftermath of land clearing. In many countries, volunteers are participating in replanting programs which help offset carbon emissions and reclaim degraded land.
And lastly, to tackle this long-lasting predicament, society needs to be more mindful of the consequences of their wasteful way of living. Governments, environmentalists as well as forestry scientists have been initiating campaigns that aim to raise awareness of the deforestation and promote the appropriate response to this matter. However, the burden of responsibilities lies in the hands of all individuals on Earth, to appreciate the services the ecosystem provides and thus leaving them intact.
When the natural ecosystem is placed under stress, a multitude of disastrous outcomes may occur: loss of animals and plants, wide-spreading diseases, lack of access to safe resources, etc. If preventive measures are not taken immediately to slow down deforestation, humans will be facing a severe crisis.