Cause and Effect of Deforestation Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1653 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

¶ … Deforestation

On a very basic level, the cause of deforestation seems simple: deforestation is caused the cutting-down of trees. But why are humans as a species so careless about the precious natural resource of trees? This was not always the case. According to the World Wide Forest Report, during the days of the Roman Empire ninety percent of continental Europe could be classified as forest land. "Today 500,000 hectors [of forest] vanish in a single week" (Rochen & Stock 2010). "Originally, almost half of the United States, three-quarters of Canada, almost all of Europe, the plains of the Levant, and much of the rest of the world were forested. The forests have been mostly removed for fuel, building materials and to clear land for farming. The clearing of the forests has been one of the most historic and prodigious feats of humanity" ("Deforestation," UM, 2010).

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Part of the impetus behind clearing the land of trees is rooted in a very simple desire: hunger. Farming the land as a source of food is essential for many poor subsistence farmers in the developing world. However, such farmers tend to use environmentally-unfriendly methods of agriculture, such as the 'slash and burn' methods deployed in the rainforest. "Slashing and burning involves what its name implies, trees are cut down and the remains are burned. The ash is used as a fertilizer and the land is then used for farming or cattle grazing, however, the soil that is cleared in slash and burn is left infertile; the nutrients in the soil are quickly absorbed by surrounding organisms. The farmers must move on sometimes to other areas and repeat this process and worthy land and trees become scarce" (Rochen & Stock 2010).

Research Paper on Cause and Effect of Deforestation Assignment

Poor land husbandry is not confined to rainforest farmers. Soil-depleting agricultural practices and deforestation have been epidemic throughout the ages amongst poor farmers, desperate to feed themselves and to make a salvageable harvest. During the settlement of the Great Plains states, farmers tore up grass and trees, which prevented rainfall from being 'held' by the roots of the plants. American farmers wanted to farm every last bit of soil, particularly after wheat prices plummeted in the years after World War I. After the Dust Bowl left the land stricken with infertility, farmers still resisted learning proper cultivation practices from representatives sent from the government, as they saw the new methods as a waste of time. Said the son of one Dust Bowl farmer: "During those Dirty Thirties they came out with a lot of these different methods -- contour farming, you know, different things, summer puddling. Ah, you pulled a little apparatus behind your plow that just dug holes and that'd catch that water. You know, you could have a two- or three-inch rain and it wouldn't run off. And they came out with a lot of these methods, but most of these old-timers wouldn't do it" (Davidson 1996).

Interestingly, the rate of 2% annual deforestation seen in the Amazon is about the same as that which existed in the Great Plains States during the time of mass settlement. And the 'effect' of another Dust Bowl on a global scale should not be dismissed: "Rain forests help generate rainfall in drought-prone countries elsewhere. Studies have shown that destruction of rain forests in such West African countries as Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire may have caused two decades of droughts in the interior of Africa, with attendant hardship and famine" ("Deforestation," National Geographic, 2010). Robbed of their shields of trees and water vapor, forests dry out in the sun. Also, the removal of trees can contribute to more extreme weather conditions: "Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun's rays during the day and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperatures swings that can be harmful to plants and animals," including humans Deforestation," National Geographic, 2010). Recent waves of 'extreme' weather such as severe hurricanes, droughts, and torrential rainfalls all over the world have been linked to global warming and deforestation. Not only do droughts increase due to deforestation: "deforestation can also cause flooding. Coastal vegetation lessens the impact of waves and winds associated with a storm surge. Without this vegetation, coastal villages are susceptible to damaging floods. The 2008 cyclone in Myanmar proved this fact to catastrophic effect. Scientists believe that the removal of coastal mangrove forests over the past decade caused the cyclone to hit with much more force" (Roca 2007, p.2)

Humanity's hunger for plentiful crops has thus driven deforestation and contributes to global warming. But another cause behind the increase in deforestation is the desire for meat. Although the environmental degradation caused by the release of methane from cattle is the focus of attention of the environmental debate about meat consumption in the United States, cattle also require large stretches of land on which to graze, land that must be razed of trees. "As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 per cent of pastures considered degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification" ("Rearing cattle," UN, 2006). Commercial agriculture is a major source of mass deforestation, but even unintentional overgrazing and overreliance upon meat-based sources of food amongst small farming communities can be devastating ("Deforestation facts," National Geographic, 2010).

Fast food enterprises have been particularly influential in stimulating the growing worldwide appetite for beef and even depend upon the use of lumber to generate packing material and paper products. McDonald's alone needs 800 square miles of trees to make the amount of paper it needs for a year to package its hamburgers and other menu items. The developed world's dependence upon everyday disposable products, from greeting cards to chopsticks is taken for granted (Rochen & Stock 2010). The need for housing and more permanent structures further drives deforestation. The demand for raw materials to build houses, has been yet another compounding factor in deforestation as the world's population increases and adopts more Westernized ways of life.

The effects of deforestation can be felt by everyone who breathes air on the earth. Trees absorb greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and "forests maintain local climate and strongly influence global fluxes of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Before green plants appeared, it is believed that there was very little oxygen in the atmosphere" ("Deforestation facts," National Geographic, 2010; "Deforestation," UM, 2010). The rise in asthma and other respiratory illnesses may be linked to deforestation. Tropical deforestation alone "contributes as much as 90% of the current net release of biotic carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This change may represent as much as 20% - 30% of the total carbon flux due to humans - i.e., rivaling the carbon release due to fossil fuel burning. Deforestation thus is an important potential source of carbon" ("Deforestation," UM, 2010).

Although it may seem like a less pressing concern than global warming, the reduction of biodiversity in the wake of the eradication of the rainforest is worthy of note. "Seventy percent of Earth's land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes" ("Deforestation facts," National Geographic, 2010). Ironically, one of the causes of deforestation is a rise in the world's population, which in turn increases demand for food and shelter. But while human numbers may be growing, the species whose existence helps support human life and creates a more habitable earth are dwindling, as a result of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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