One Tree Planted

5 CAUSES OF DEFORESTATION

Meaghan Weeden | July 7, 2020 | 3 min read

What is the most common cause of deforestation?

Deforestation is a major problem, but we’re pretty sure you already knew that. Every minute, we lose about 36 football fields worth of trees. And although the rate of loss has slowed over the last 30 years, according to the recent State of the World's Forests report it hasn’t decreased enough — over 420 million hectares have been destroyed since 1990.

Of that, around 80 million acres were ecologically important primary forests. And another 100 million acres are directly threatened by forest fires, pests, diseases, invasive species, drought, and extreme weather events. Deforestation is also responsible for 13% of our yearly carbon emissions and it has been clearly demonstrated how deforestation causes flooding, landslides, desertification, drought, soil erosion, habitat loss, increased wildfire risk, and more. And of course, all of these compounding issues are driven and amplified by climate change. Yes, it's a lot to take in. But don't be discouraged, be informed!

Let's Talk About the Causes of Deforestation

WHAT ARE THE 5 CAUSES OF DEFORESTATION?

While reforestation is our reason for being, we recognize that conservation is equally as — if not even more — important. But to protect forests, we first need to understand what’s threatening them.

industrial agriculture tractor

1. INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE

Look no further than your dinner plate, because industrial agriculture accounts for around 85% of deforestation worldwide. And while this can mostly be attributed to meat production (beef in particular), soy and palm oil plantations follow closely behind. But before you shun the tofu, let’s take a closer look: meat producers clear vast swaths of forest to graze their livestock and to grow the 80% of all soybeans that go directly into feed for cattle, poultry, and pigs. 

timber logging deforestation

2. TIMBER LOGGING

Around 380,000 hectares of forest are cut every year to meet the incredible global demand for wood and wood products, accounting for around 60% of degradation. Another 25% of forest is degraded for fuelwood and charcoal. And from clear cuts to massive logging roads providing access to previously untouched areas, these degraded forests are much more vulnerable to conversion for other land uses like mining, agriculture, and settlement.

illegal gold mine peru

3. MINING

Thanks to an ever-increasing demand for minerals for everything from carpets to medicines and smartphones, mining around the world, including in tropical forests, is on the rise. And because large-scale mining is an intensive, industrial undertaking, it requires building massive infrastructure, which only amplifies the degradation. So next time you're thinking of upgrading your smartphone, consider that over 1/2 of its components are made from mined and semi-processed materials.

building infrastructure

4. EXPANSION AND INFRASTRUCTURE

As the tide of human population growth washes over the earth's surface, large swaths of forest get cleared to make way for the expansion of cities and settlements. And with these settlements come even more infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, water and sewer systems, railways and subways, airports, harbors, and more. This expansion rapidly degrades ecosystems, displacing endemic (adapted to a specific place) plant and wildlife species, reducing biodiversity, and more. 

california wildfire

5. CLIMATE CHANGE

Extreme weather events like wildfires (which are responsible for an estimated 10% of degradation annually), droughts, and storm surges destroy millions of hectares of forest every year — and the intensity of wildfires is increasing with global warming. But the trouble doesn’t stop there: after the last fire has been put out, the gates are left wide open to accommodate any pests, diseases, and invasive species that want to move in. This means native species come up short in a race for their very survival.

How Can We Help Stop Deforestation

  • Decouple economic growth from deforestation by urging corporations to reconfigure their supply chains and to adopt strict “zero deforestation” policies
  • Urge our governments to implement sustainable land use policies and to pass laws that forbid the sale of products linked to deforestation
  • Invest in civil advocacy campaigns in Brazil, and other South American countries that are working to implement and expand Cattle Moratoriums, which would lessen the political pressure on rainforest ecosystems
  • Support campaigns that protect indigenous rights — because indigenous people and other local forest communities are on the front lines of the battle to protect forests they call home
  • Vote with your wallet by only purchasing FSC certified wood, sustainable palm oil, Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, and organic, locally produced meats 
tree planter british columbia wildfire restoration

Planting Trees in British Columbia after the historic Hanceville Fire!

And finally, reforestation plays a vital role in recovering after deforestation and its impacts. While the secondary forests established today will not be able to sequester as much carbon as the primary forests they replace, trees can absorb as much as 1/3 of what’s currently in our atmosphere. And if done correctly, reforestation can also protect biodiversity, stabilize the soil, support the water cycle, and slowly restore the vital ecosystem services that we all depend on. So let's get to it — plant a tree with us today!

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