Deforestation is the permanent and intentional clearing of forested land by humans, often for agricultural expansion, timber harvesting for fuel or building materials, mining, and human settlement. Huge areas of forest can also become rapidly deforested during natural disasters like wildfires, tornadoes, and cyclones.
Deforestation, or the human-driven and natural loss of trees, affects everything from wildlife and ecosystems to weather patterns and the water cycle. And forests, which cover 30% of Earth’s surface, are critically important to just about every aspect of life, especially in the face of climate change.
Often a forest is degraded for a long time before being completely cleared. And once the process has begun, it can be difficult to turn back the ecological clock: after roads and other infrastructure are established, wild areas are very vulnerable to clear cuts. And once an area is deforested, it will take decades (or longer) to return to something resembling its original state. This is why conservation is so important in the fight to protect our global forest resources.
In 2015, global forest cover fell below four billion hectares for the first time in human history. And despite many governmental promises and declarations, the state of the world's forests are not seeing much improvement when it comes to reducing the rate of deforestation. Every year, more than 20 million football fields’ worth of forests (15 billion trees!) continue to get cut down.
That’s bad news for everyone, but especially for the half of the world's terrestrial flora and fauna and 75% of all birds that live in and around forests.
Besides sheltering biodiversity, one of the most important benefits forests provide is carbon sequestration. In fact, one mature tree can consume 22lbs of carbon a year! But once they’re chopped down, all that carbon gets released right back into the atmosphere. When that happens, it traps solar heat in our atmosphere which, in turn, warms our planet. Because of this, deforestation accounts for 11% of human-caused greenhouse gases. To put that into perspective, transportation accounts for about 14% of global greenhouse gases. Stopping deforestation, then, is absolutely critical if we want to stop climate change.
Russia, which is home to 1/5th of the world’s forests (including the Tiaga boreal forest, which is the largest tract of forest on Earth) has seen their forests increasingly threatened by wildfires. In 2019, fires spread across over 2.5 million ha of Siberia and investigations have been launched amidst concerns that these fires were deliberately started by illegal logging operations to cover their tracks.
Because it is clear that many governments aren’t consistently enforcing their own laws, we have to call on the private sector to step up. To this end, we can exercise our power as consumers and urge corporations to shift their supply chains and adopt strict “zero deforestation” policies. If they hold their suppliers accountable, they can dramatically reduce deforestation.
We can call on our governments to pass laws that forbid the sale of any products linked to deforestation. We can invest in civil advocacy campaigns in Brazil and other South American countries that are working to expand the Cattle Moratorium, which would lessen the political pressure on vital rainforest ecosystems.
And we can join campaigns that support indigenous rights everywhere, because indigenous people and local forest communities are on the frontline of the battle for the forests they call home.
In our day-to-day lives, we can spread awareness, go paperless, recycle, read ingredient labels, and do our own research.
We can also vote with our wallets by only purchasing FSC certified wood, sustainable palm oil, ethical chocolate, and rainforest safe meats (and by cutting down on our meat consumption).
And of course, reforestation plays a vital role in addressing deforestation and its impacts. If done correctly, reforestation can restore damaged ecosystems, stabilize soil, support the water cycle, and slowly recover the vital ecosystem services that we depend on. And while we certainly don’t ever advocate for cutting down any forests—primary or not—there is evidence that proximity to secondary forests reduces the deforestation pressure on primary ones. Planting new trees is, ultimately, an investment in future forests!
Our round up app makes planting trees a part of your daily routine. Just connect your cards or accounts and the app will automatically round up spare change to plant trees.DOWNLOAD THE APP