Deforestation is the act of clearing a wide area of trees to change the purpose of the land. This subject is usually discussed when looking at the effects it has on the rainforest biome, but it can also occur anywhere in the world when a forest is artificially transformed for another purpose. Farming is the most common reason for this action. Timber companies will clear-cut for short-term profits at times, while ranches or urban use are also possibilities.
Although trees are part of the natural cycle of life on our planet, human-driven deforestation can affect our ecosystems, weather patterns, wildlife, and climate. Forests still cover about 30% of the land area on our planet, but they are also disappearing at a rapid pace. Since 1990, over 502,000 square miles of forest biome, which is an area larger than the country of South Africa, has gone through this process.
Since humans first started to cut down forests to use the natural resource for their own needs, we have lost 46% of our total trees. Almost one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared in the last 50 years – and the pace of devastation is increasing still today.
That is why we must carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of deforestation right now. If we wait too long and this practice alters life on our planet, the results could be devastating for future generations.
List of the Advantages of Deforestation
1. This practice gives us access to the products we use every day.
Farming, livestock grazing, drilling, and mining activities are responsible for over 50% of all deforestation activities today. In places like Indonesia and Malaysia, farmers are replacing the trees of the forest with groves that can produce palm oil. That means we all have access to affordable products that include saltine crackers and shampoo because of these efforts. Soy plantations in the Amazon exist because of this activity. Despite the potential changes to the environment that occur, new plantings can help to mitigate the harvests that occur.
2. We have access to paper and wood products because of deforestation.
Although deforestation practices are not solely responsible for our paper and wood products, the actions of timber companies give us access to these needed items. Access roads that go into the remote forests make it possible to thin out some of the trees without harming the overall biome as well. Sustainable practices that encourage profits and usability without the need for full clearcutting is possible with proper management techniques. Some individuals and companies may not practice that agenda, but there are times when deforestation simply leads to a new forest being planted.
3. It creates an economic benefit that some communities need for survival.
There are more than 250 million people who live in the savannahs and forest areas where the activities of deforestation are essential to their survival. Many of the families who live in those biomes are some of the poorest people in the world today. Although 80% of the plants and land animals on our planet live in the forests, the disruptions are permitted because the alternative means placing even more sacrifices on those who already have so little. Billions of dollars in the import-export market exist because of the logging activities and agricultural outcomes that are possible because of this practice.
4. We can create more usable land for a growing population.
The kids of the 1980s will be in their 70s when the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion people for the first time. That number is expected to place a lot of pressure on our natural resources. Scientists have legitimate concerns about our abilities to distribute food, have access to fresh water, and provide living space to all of those people. Deforestation may not be the preferred method of expansion, but it will give us a way to make more land usable for agricultural or urban purposes.
5. Logging jobs aren’t the only ones that deforestation activities support.
There are tens of thousands of jobs available today, many of them which provide a high local standard or living, because of the effects of deforestation. We can extract natural gas and oil from these rich lands to meet our energy needs. Miners have access to precious metals like gold and silver, and there are minerals which are accessible in these areas as well. The revenues from these operations help to support the local economy as well. If agencies were to plant new trees for the ones that they take out, then the impact of many potential disadvantages would be significantly reduced.
6. We have an opportunity to discover new species.
Because of the research opportunities that developed due, in part, to the actions of deforestation, we have discovered tens of thousands of new species in the rainforest biome since the 1950s. There have been thousands of new animals discovered during that time as well, along with almost countless new insects. Scientists recently explored a rainforest located in Mount Lico and found a new species of butterfly, an unclassified mouse species, and have the expectation to find much more.
7. Social safety net programs receive funding through deforestation efforts.
When companies make a profit through their actions of deforestation, then the tax revenues that come from those earnings help to fund local government activities. Social welfare programs receive funding because of this advantage. There are roads, bridges, and other infrastructure items available thanks to these actions as well. Over $6 billion gets generated each year because of these actions, which means the economic fallout from a complete stoppage could be devastating.
List of the Disadvantages of Deforestation
1. Without trees, we lose the environmental benefits they provide.
We need to have our forests for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they absorb carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and what we exhale. This biome will also stop the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that we produce from our regular activities. Tropical tree cover by itself can provide over 20% of the climate mitigation that we need by 2025 to meet the goals that were set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. If we are continuing to cut down trees to create more farmland, ranches, or usable space, then the short-term profits we encounter are really a debt that will be placed on the next generation.
2. Removing trees can influence global temperatures.
When forests disappear because of deforestation, then there are portions of the canopy which disappear in this biome. This event causes more sunlight to reach the forest floor, which means there is less heat retained during the evening hours as well. It is a disadvantage which causes more severe swings in global temperatures because there are fewer influences in place to stabilize the temperature. That means the days can get hotter, the nights get colder, and plans and animals encounter a higher risk for harm because of those extreme swings.
Cutting trees creates a double disadvantage here. Not only are we limiting the amount of CO2 that is absorbable from the atmosphere, but we are adding more to the air that we breathe. If our deforestation activities were a single country, it would rank third behind China and the United States for equivalent emissions.
3. It can adversely impact local water supplies.
The effects of deforestation go beyond changes in the ambient temperature. Removing trees can impact the local, regional, and global water cycles. The Amazon rainforest is responsible for the water supply to many Brazilian cities. Neighboring countries almost solely rely on this natural resource for their drinking supplies. When we lose clean water and biodiversity at the same time because of clearcutting activities, then there can be numerous effects that happen in the future that we could never predict. Everyone would be affected in some way, even if they only have a cup of coffee in the morning.
4. The soil from forest lands is rarely usable right away.
The actions of deforestation might create more usable space, but it is an adverse impact in many situations because the soil is not useful in its current state. When rainforests are cleared in tropical areas, the nutrient availability is negligible. That means farmers and ranchers must apply fertilizers and artificial stimulants to make the land usable for crops, even if palm oil is the intended harvest.
There can be issues with acidity as well, which means changes to the pH level are necessary. When you consider the added cost of additives and fertilizers, the benefits of deforestation are sometimes negligible.
5. The revenue boosts that economies receive are temporary.
When you clear-cut a forest, the trees will not grow back unless there are planting activities which occur afterward. Because that process creates an added cost for some firms, the short-term profits from the timber are taken instead. That means each acre provides a limited revenue boost that must be duplicated with each budget cycle. That’s why we’re losing more than 18 million acres of forest biome each year. Since there is no effort made to encourage sustainability, it is impossible to build the foundation of a long-term profitable enterprise. At some point, there will no longer be a rainforest available to harvest, which means all of the benefits listed here will disappear.
6. Deforestation can lead to issues with species extinction.
When we take away the habitats where animals live, then they must either adapt to their new living conditions or die. The latter option happens far too often over the past 60 years when deforestation began to grow at exponential levels. Mother Nature can only change at a certain speed and to a certain extent. Plants receive adverse impacts because of this disadvantage as well.
The World Wildlife Federation released a report in 2018 that included 59 scientists from around the planet. Their conclusion was shocking: since 1970, humans have eliminated 60% of the animal species because of growing consumption of resources and food. We must come to realize that nature is our life-support system instead of being something that is nice to have.
7. It leads to increased levels of soil erosion.
When there are no longer trees available to anchor fertile soils, then erosion can occur in the first weather cycle after the deforestation event. Rainfall can sweep the new land into the rivers, especially since any new agricultural plants don’t have the same root base strength that the previous trees could offer. Some crops, including soybeans, wheat, cotton, palm oil, and coffee, can make this disadvantage worse even if the CO2 issues are neutralized. Up to one-third of the arable land on our planet has already washed away because of soil erosion or degradation issues in the past 60 years.
Since producers just move on when this disadvantage occurs, more deforestation takes place. That process continues the cycle of soil loss, which eventually can lead to a recessive economy when no other options are possible.
8. Deforestation can disrupt the livelihood of entire cultures.
There are over 1.2 billion people in the world today who rely on the forest biome for their shelter. Water, fuel, and food security are also possible because of our responsible use of trees. About 750 million people actually live in the forest, including 60 million indigenous people. The act of deforestation disrupts all of these lives, often with devastating consequences when it occurs. The rural poor in Brazil have already been lured out from their villages to work in abusive, forced conditions on plantations as a form of modern slavery. In the Mekong region of Southeast Asia, this action had led to population migration, social conflict, and higher levels of violence.
9. It can lead to issues with local and regional flooding.
When there is less soil stability because of the disadvantage of erosion, the risk of a flooding event occurring during the rainy season increases dramatically. Poor water absorption levels make it easier for higher accumulation levels since the trees are no longer present to take up the extra moisture. That runoff then funnels into the streams and rivers in the region, creating problems for downstream communities. As the conditions worsen in the region, the speed and ferocity of the flooding events continue to increase, threatening property and lives in ways that wouldn’t occur if deforestation wasn’t happening.
Although this disadvantage may eventually disappear as the forests go away, a secondary problem will begin. If the Amazon rainforest were to be entirely consumed by the year 2060, then it could create untold climate impacts that may be devastating to human populations.
10. Deforestation changes our culture.
Humans rely on their tribal instincts far more often then they realize. Although we often associate this behavior with indigenous people, we all choose neighborhoods, friends, and even spiritual communities based on our comfort levels. When we choose deforestation over the future of our planet, then we are doing more than changing the lives of the 100+ isolated tribes that continue to live in the rainforest biome. We are changing ourselves.
Up to 50% of a single tribe is usually dead after the first year of contact with the modern world because of disease exposure. More pass away because they cannot adapt to the changes demanded of them. Our lives also change because of weather changes, such as alterations to the hurricane season or historic heat waves that come around with greater frequency.
11. We might lose the future of medicine because of deforestation.
Up to 70% of the plants in the rainforest biome have some level of anti-cancer reactions when studied under clinical research conditions. Many of these species only exist in the Amazon region. There are medicines that we can develop from the trees and plants that can help with addiction withdrawal, metabolism, and problematic infections. If deforestation continues, then we would lose access to our current medical resources while eliminating the potential for additional discoveries.
12. People become violent over their grabbing of new resources.
Governments take action to protect indigenous tribes from outside interactions because of the health dangers that such exposure creates. There are times when a single family or individual might be the remaining members of their tribe. Local farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs understand that the protections that stop them from expanding their operations disappear when those individuals are gone.
The most well-known example of this disadvantage is of an individual called Man of the Hole. On protected lands, he grows vegetables and maintains his tribal way of life despite being its last known member. Government officials must protect him because of how people frequently target him to claim his land.
13. Deforestation encourages a loss of diversity.
When we lose diversity in our DNA, then there is a noticeable increase in risk of genetic mutations occurring. This disadvantage is often called a “bottleneck.” There is more than a dozen of these issues directly related to familial mating practices in humans, with the impact still affecting newborns centuries after they develop. One family has a medical issue called Uner Tan Syndrome which causes them to walk like a quadruped. Hypertrichosis causes hair excessive hair to grow on the face, ears, and shoulders.
If we apply this same principle to Mother Nature and our artificial interventions due to deforestation, then the same problems could occur. By limiting diversity, we are creating problems that may last for generations even if we can eventually reverse the issue.
Verdict on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Deforestation
Humans looked at forests as a usable, commercial product in the centuries before because our population numbers were low, and the biome was so rich. As time has passed, our numbers have grown to levels that are not sustainable with traditional practices. We are now adversely impacting our very ways of life under the guise of giving ourselves a brighter future. The evidence would suggest otherwise.
We must begin to create a sustainable infrastructure to counter the problems that deforestation creates. The value of the forest must be factored into the financing decisions that take places for the mines, farms, and roads that take the place of trees.
The advantages and disadvantages of deforestation must encourage a transition to different bioenergy resources if we want to stop future issues. Instead of using wood and charcoal for fuel, we can create energy with residues, wastes, and even algae. It is possible to have 100% of our energy come from renewable resources by 2050 if we make the investments today.
Natalie Regoli is a seasoned writer, who is also our editor-in-chief. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.