Environmental Laboratory

  • How Fast Are We Losing Trees?

How Fast Are We Losing Trees?

Aug 10 2018 Read 1747 Times

The latest new report from Global Forest Watch, published in tandem with the University of Maryland, has revealed that 2017 was the second most damaging year on record with regards to the amount of tropical tree cover lost to deforestation and wildfires. Bettered only by 2016, the year saw almost 16 million acres of forested area disappear.

Roughly equivalent to the size of Vietnam, the area underlines the rapid pace at which we are losing the trees which are so vital to converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Although a slight decline from 2016, when over 17 million acres were destroyed, the statistics highlight what is a very concerning problem for environmentalists everywhere.

Deliberate deforestation the chief culprit

The majority of the forested area was deliberately cleared by humans to make way for agricultural activity, including farms dedicated to cattle, palm oil, soy beans and timber. Often, these activities take place despite local legislation and are fuelled by corruption, holding severe implications not only for Mother Earth but also for the human race.

The tree cover is desperately needed to store carbon and offset the exorbitant emissions produced by industrial activity; in fact, the report concludes that conserving our trees could tackle up to 30% of the goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement. What’s more, the burning of these forested areas also emits substantial amounts of pollutants as recorded by wide-ranging particulate matter sensors, which are a chief cause of cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.

The usual suspects

Unsurprisingly, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil was the area most affected by deforestation. The South American nation has historically suffered high levels of tree cover loss, despite concerted efforts between 2004 and 2012 to combat the phenomenon which saw deforestation fall by 80%. Unfortunately, enforcement of the appropriate legislation has slackened off in recent years, meaning that once again Brazil is top of the pile.

Not far behind was the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose ongoing political crisis means that wildfires in rural parts of the country are ever more frequent. Elsewhere, Colombia showed perhaps the most worrying upward trend, with its tree cover loss jumping up 46% from last year. This could be in part due to the removal of FARC forces from forested areas, allowing unscrupulous exploiters of the land to move in.

Silver linings hard to find

Although the report from the Global Forest Watch was largely damning, there were some small glimpses of promise. Indonesia, for example, has long been regarded as one of the chief culprits of deforestation, but this year saw its tree cover loss fall by 60% compared to 2016. The occurrence of El Niño also brought higher levels of rainfall to many tropical parts of the world, acting as a natural extinguisher for unintentional fires.

Meanwhile, it was discovered last year that there may be as much as 500 million hectares of more forests on Earth than was previously assumed. However, if we continue to chop and burn down the trees at the same rate as we are currently doing, that surplus won’t last for long.  

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