There are many words that we hear frequently in regard to our environment and the damage that is being caused. It’s important that we all take the time to understand what these terms are referring to and how they are impacting our environment. With so much greenwashing happening in so many places especially in the digital world, we want to help more consumers understand what the problems are and how to avoid purchasing in ways that contribute to negative environmental impacts.
In this article, we’re taking the opportunity to delve into ‘deforestation’. We’ll explain what this means, how it impacts us and how it impacts the environment!
What is deforestation?
‘About 2,000 years ago, 80 percent of Western Europe was forested; today the figure is 34 percent.’
National Geographic Society
Deforestation is the purposeful removal of trees from an area. For many many years, forests have been completely removed from areas to provide space for agriculture and farming. Not only this but trees are also removed in this rapid way to gain wood resources for fuel, manufacturing and other constructions. Due to the heavy nature of this extreme removal of trees from one area, there are multiple environmental health implications.
Where does deforestation happen?
Deforestation happens all around the world. Western Europe, China and North America have been some of the hardest hit by deforestation in the last two thousand years. In more recent times, the tropical rainforests have been affected most by the act of deforestation.
How does deforestation impact United Kingdom residents?
‘In 2010, United Kingdom had 3.53Mha of natural forest, extending over 20% of its land area. In 2020, it lost 4.15kha of natural forest.’
There is deforestation happening all over the world, including in the United Kingdom. However, the overall impact of deforestation in other locations, as well as the United Kindom, is what impacts residents. The environmental cost, the damage that is caused, has an impact on every living creature on the planet. Also, it's worth noting here that the actions of people in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world has an effect on deforestation. If products are chosen unconsciously, then consumers are inadvertently encouraging the continuation of deforestation by continuing to the demand for goods that use the materials or the land that is made from the action.
What is the environmental impact of deforestation?
Deforestation began from demand. The more meat, crops and resources the world needed, the more land was disrupted. Similarly, with the expansion of civilisation, more space was needed and more forests began to diminish. The issue from the beginning was the lack of knowledge of the impact this would have especially without replenishment. Here are the top impacts that deforestation has:
When trees are cut down during the act of deforestation the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. This CO2 is how deforestation increases global warming. In 2021, it was estimated that tropical rainforest deforestation makes up 10 -20% of global warming pollution.
Soil erosion poses an issue to the future growth and health of the planet. When trees are removed from even small scales and during logging, the soil is exposed to rain which without tree protection loosened the soil. This dislodging causes the soil to erode making it more impermeable. This bare surface then increases the water runoff impacting the soil and surrounding area. Trees also help to anchor soil with their roots and when removed causes increased movement.
There are two big reasons why deforestation causes flooding. As above, trees are reducing runoff and the movement of sediment. However, the removal of trees has a bigger impact. Forests both hold and use more water than any grassland or farmland. One of the largest causes of deforestation is making room for other agriculture and these spaces then can’t cope with the volume of water. This then causes flooding.
‘More than three-quarters of the world’s documented land-based species can be found in forests.’
Removing trees also destroys habitats. It takes away the natural biodiversity that animals need to survive. When trees aren’t available for cover, animals become more susceptible to predators. They’re also fighting over lower food sources which both increase the competition in the area for mates and available food. This inevitably leads to the extinction of species.
Acidity in the oceans is caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolving into the ocean, lowering the pH, therefore making it more acidic. There are many factors causing carbon dioxide to be released but a major one is deforestation. With fewer trees, there is less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere. There's also research explaining not only how the fewer trees make a difference but actually how the process of deforestation causes carbon dioxide release including when the natural matter left over from cutting down trees also releases carbon dioxide.
Quality of life for people
Environmental damage has an impact on all human life. From the increase in the spread of disease to the world’s rapid desertification. The way the climate has changed is causing land to not be able to be used, lowering the amount of food production that can happen. There is also research to suggest that the lower biodiversity and lack of genetic diversity in the food growing is also having an impact on human health and the immunity to fight off disease.
Deforestation has had a negative impact on the environment. Although studies had shown the consequences it was having, corporations still proceed to take away trees with financial gain as a high motivation. Consumers can have an impact on deforestation by choosing healthier sources of products and checking company credentials to ensure they are looking after the environment. Some companies who have put sustainability into their business plans include things like tree planting to help rejuvenate and rehabilitate parts of the world. It still remains important to check how these initiatives affect the issue and positively impact everyone.