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The Significance of Deforestation

Introduction

Human beings have lived on earth for many years and have undergone various evolution stages to get to the current normal people. Over the years the environment has always offered man food, clothing and shelter that have sustained and made life bearable. Vegetation is one of the most important aspects of nature that sustains human life and that of many other living things and covers a considerable size of the world’s surface area. This essay seeks to address the causes, effects and solutions to deforestation concerning the interaction of human beings with their environment.

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Definitions

Deforestation is a state where the amount of forest cover is reduced without replacement due to natural causes like diseases, or interference by human activities like logging. The causes of deforestation are the factors that lead to the depletion of these forests while effects are the results that appear after the forest cover has been cleared. The solutions of clearing forests are the ways that nations, schools and individuals can use to ensure the forests are protected against exploitation by human beings.

Forests have a long history dating back to the origin of life on earth. While most sacred beliefs affirm the origin of forests to creation by a superior force (God), scientists believe that forests came from angiosperms over 100 million years ago and evolved to form present-day forests (Allen, 2003). However, the origin of forests is also due to man’s efforts of introducing man-made forests that are covered mainly by softwood trees. This was due to the endless demand for trees for timber, logs, pulp, wood, furniture and paper by the population that was increasing at a very high rate.

Significance of forests

Human beings have used forests in almost all their daily aspects of life. In the ancient days, forests sheltered man since there were no houses to live in. Today, forests still offer millions of shelter by the use of poles for building houses. People have always fetched firewood and burnt trees to get charcoal from forests as a source of energy for cooking for those who can not afford electricity and cooking gas. Some trees have been attributed to have medicinal value and their extracts have greatly helped in medication like penicillin while other trees produce fruits that supplement food in many households and some are fodder crops for livestock farmers (Kalman, 2006). Many house items like beds, chairs, stands and cupboards are made from wood that is readily available and affordable to all classes of people. Fencing poles and structures are made from trees. Forests are the greatest water catchment areas that supply people with water for domestic use.

Many industries rely on nature for the provision of raw materials for their production processes like in the production of writing and printing papers and the manufacture of plywoods. Telecommunication and electricity industries rely heavily on tree poles to lay their cables to various regions that need their services. In addition, industries that produce plywoods and block boards derive their raw materials from forests. Some industries have adopted the use of trees for the production of energy for heating and boiling substances in their production stages (Kalman, 2006). In the 19th century, the introduction of steamboats led to the destruction of many trees to provide them with energy for heating water to drive these vessels. Forests offer shelter to many wildlife species that attract tourists either to view the forests or the wild animals living there.

Forest covers make a vast part of the environment and contribute greatly to the sustenance of the ecosystem. It helps in the recycling of oxygen and nitrogen gases while at the same time purifying the environment. The hydrogen cycle relies heavily on forests to regulate the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere and hence control temperatures. Trees also help in keeping the water table high to ease the availability of water to other plants with shallow roots (Morley, 2000). Forests offer habitats for wild animals of various ecological niches starting from the producers to consumers hence the completion of food chains and food webs.

Causes of Deforestation

The amount of forest cover on earth has been reduced to alarming rates that have made it very risky for the survival of future generations of living things. This has been activated by factors that are economically, socially or politically motivated.

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Social Factors

The human population has multiplied and exceeded the available houses which have led to human beings encroaching forest lands for the need to expand and avail land for building houses and settlement schemes. The soaring population has made it hard for people to be accommodated by the limited houses available and led to others clearing forests to set up houses. This has also necessitated the need to have houses furnished meaning there is more need for trees to be cut to get timber for the construction of household furniture. Furthermore, this population increase has led to demand for more food to serve people yet there is no adequate land for farming to produce enough food and thus forcing people to clear forests to expand the existing farming land (Allen, 2003). The financial constraints in poor and developing countries have made it hard for the people to access other sources of energy for cooking like electricity and gas and has forced them to turn to charcoal and firewood as cheaper options. Forest fires triggered by honey hunters and charcoal burners are also common and whenever these happen vast vegetation cover is destroyed and hundreds of animal species displaced.

Economic factors

With the industrial revolution of the 19th century, there was a great need for energy to run machines in these industries which were done by steam generated from water boiled by logs of trees. These industries need to be set up in areas that were far from human settlements giving them no option except to be built in forested areas and this encouraged the clearing of forests to give room for buildings to be set up. In addition, there was the need to give the staff of these industries houses near them to save time wasted in travelling hence leading to more forests being cleared. Due to the increase in technology that saw many people acquire vehicles, there was a great need to have roads that were passable throughout the year (Morley, 2000). This could only be possible through encroaching forest land as this was an easier option compared to resettling people. In the modern world, forests have continued to be depleted as demand for paper, pulp, plywood, timber, furniture and wood continue to rise due to the high population. The research on the agricultural sector led to the adoption of better ways of ensuring that crops are cultivated throughout the year by the use of irrigation farming. These irrigation farms are usually for commercial purposes and as a result, large tracks of forest land are cleared in the attempt to create more land for crop production and ranching (Allen, 2003). Tourism is one of the major revenue generation sources by many countries in the world. This practice sometimes endangers the survival of forests as tourists trample on natural vegetation through their continuous visits to game parks and game reserves.

Political factors

Politics play a very important role as far as forests and other natural resources are concerned since it forms a path through which power is exercised and shared in all countries of the world. Legislation of new laws and regulations lies solely on the political elite and the majority of decisions that govern the preservation and protection of natural resources lies on the shoulders of these administrators in their different categories. However, the same body that is mandated to preserve these natural resources has in most cases enacted laws that have led to devastating effects on forests (Newton, 2007). Such legislations include the resettlement of people in natural forests and the establishment of agricultural zones that have led to the encroachment of forests to give room for the availability of land for these purposes. On other occasions plans to enact laws against illegal logging and encroachment of forest reserves have met stiff reactions from politicians whose vested interests are affected by the policies. They work very hard to make sure that such motions in parliament do not go through as the victims try to protect their electorates from any effort aimed at changing or interfering with their normal life regardless of the impact on the forests.

In other cases, people have used their political positions to illegally acquire land earmarked as natural reserves for their gains and interests (Palmer, 2008). Such tracks of land have been given to their political friends and civilians perceived to be supporters of a certain political party or candidate at the expense of the exploitation of these forests and other natural resources that are meant for the public interest.

Effects of Deforestation

Human beings are always responsible and accountable for their actions and the clearance of forests is not an exception. Today forest covers on earth constitute less than thirty per cent and continue to diminish at an alarming rate. There are many effects that deforestation has had on human beings, wildlife and the environment in almost all facets of their life as shown in the following categories;

Environment

As discussed earlier forests cover a very vast area of the earth’s surface and this, therefore, implies that the environment constitutes a greater percentage of forests. Through the indiscriminate cutting down of forests, the earth becomes exposed to the harmful ultra-violet rays known as UV-B rays from the sun as a result of the depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone layer serves as a selective membrane or blanket that allows a certain amount of the sun’s rays to reach the earth’s surface (Roberts 2005). Forests play a major role in maintaining and preserving the ozone layer that in turn prevents the direct illumination of the earth by the sun’s rays. The depletion of the ozone layer leads to desertification of arable lands forcing farmers to invade the forests near them while seeking well-irrigated land for farming and the race between desertification and deforestation is renewed.

Forests play a very important role in the purification of air in the environment through the oxygen cycle. Industries, machines and automobiles emit harmful gases that are usually absorbed by plants for manufacturing their food. When forests are destroyed the greenhouse effect is reduced and these harmful gases remain in the atmosphere leading to global warming due to the reduction of the ozone layer (Morley, 2000). Eventually, water bodies located near land are dried up causing water shortage and resulting in the death of many living organisms as rivers, ponds and lakes evaporate due to excess heat. The ocean and lake become filled as their levels rise due to the melting of ice on the ice cap mountains leading to flooding of the nearby settlement areas.

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All animals depend directly on vegetation cover for survival. Wild animals’ habitat is destroyed when forests are cleared forcing them to migrate and this exposes them to poachers and conflicts with human beings. Millions of birds, mammals and aquatic animals lose their homes and safe hidings from predators and harsh conditions. When these forests are destroyed food webs and food chains are broken as the species involved are killed by deforestation exposing the whole ecosystem to distinction.

Climate is regulated by forests by ensuring that the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere is maintained. The presence of high humidity means there is the great potential of constant rain that will support vegetation while little or absence of humidity implies the possibility of drought and subsequently a reduction in water supply for the food required by human beings, plants and animals.

The composition of the soil is greatly determined by the amount of hummus on it and forests play a major role in ensuring that the soil is enriched with manure due to the leaves and twigs that fall and decompose to form this fertile element of the soil (Palmer, 2008). When forests are depleted the soils remain bare and infertile and the use of artificial fertilizers becomes too expensive and out of reach by many farmers. The roots of trees that penetrate deep into the soil help in soil aeration to reduce acidity and provide the living things with oxygen. When such trees are eliminated there is a high possibility of the soil becoming acidic due to inadequate air circulation hence becoming infertile. The microorganisms living in the soil die as a result of exposure to excessive heat and lack of sufficient oxygen that eventually stops the decomposition of matter to form humus.

Human beings

People are inseparable from their environment since their entire life relies on the resources offered by nature. The human body requires many nutrients from plants, animals and the environment including vitamin D which is obtained from the sun. It should however be noted that too much exposure of the human body to the ultraviolet rays of type UV-B subjects the body to damage of the DNA structure that results in skin infections including cancer (Newton, 2007). In addition to this human beings are exposed to the harmful nitrogen gases emitted from industries and automobiles that may lead to lung and skin infections.

Human beings rely on the environment for food, shelter and clothing and when forests are depleted the food production chain is cut short as trees form the primary factor of food production (Roberts, 2005). The absence of water for farming means that the price of food will shoot up due to high demand for the limited available food produced hence raising the cost of living to great levels. The encroachment of arable land by deserts reduces the size of land used for farming to the wasteland that results in the shortage of food supply hence making people suffer in searches for fresh food like vegetables and fruits.

When forests that harbour wild animals are destroyed either due to fire or man’s encroachment the wild animals start migrating to other locations to avoid mans’ interference. While on this process of moving many conflicts are encountered between human beings and wild animals and result in the death of human beings and animals and destruction of crops and property. These damages are usually a heavy burden to the government and the people involved, in addition directing these animals to their natural habitats becomes risky and expensive to conduct due to more injuries and expenses.

Forests also act as natural windbreakers and are important in reducing the effects of cyclones and powerful winds. When forests are cleared the land remains empty and exposed to strong winds that sometimes destroy houses leading to loss of property and lives (Morley 2000). These winds usually carry tiny particles of sand that hamper visibility and sometimes may also lead to eye irritation and infections. The winds that blow over water surfaces sometimes result in high waves that flood the nearby human settlements destroying property and loss of lives that should have been protected like the devastating effects of the Tsunami and Katrina floods.

Most people in developing nations depend on crop production and animal rearing for survival. In many developed nations, many people are usually employed to work in plantation farms and animal ranches. As the forests are cleared these activities are hampered and eventually they become impossible to practice. Many people are left jobless and without money or food and this increase, the number of people who depend on others and the government for support and lowers the gross domestic product.

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Economy

The tourism industry relies on natural resources like lakes, forests, game parks and game reserves for its survival. Deforestation means that the natural settings of the tourist attraction sites are destroyed and this makes them lose their fascinating ability. Eventually, it leads to a drop in the number of tourists that visits a country. This finally reduces the amount of revenue generated from the tourism industry as foreign exchange earnings become less.

For any economy to grow there must be few people relying on the government for assistance and the majority should be working (Allen, 2003). When employment opportunities are destroyed due to negative changes in weather conditions as a result of deforestation the dependency ratio increases lowering the gross domestic product of a country. A country incurs more expenses in providing for the unemployed population and may even require loans and international aids to sustain the life of its citizens.

Manufacturing industries that rely heavily on natural resources like trees will be forced to close down as the rate at which the trees are cut far outstretches the number of trees being planted. If immediate actions are not taken to ensure a continuous supply of the raw materials like having an alternative to trees, the inevitable laying off of workers and closure of multimillion investments will follow (Kalman, 2006). These industries generate a lot of income in terms of taxes paid to the government and the salaries paid to their workers.

Finally, the depletion of forests will endanger infrastructural developments in developing countries that still rely on trees as poles for laying out their networks and services to various regions within their borders. This means that electricity and telephone poles will not be available for these services forcing them to use metal poles that are very expensive to manufacture or acquire. Forests offer a source of livelihood to very many people and once this chance is wasted the people may turn to other evil and immoral ways of getting money like mugging and robbery with violence. Some may turn to drug abuse as a result of frustrations after losing their only source of income and this also results in children dropping out of school and most marriages end up breaking.

Solutions to deforestation

Having discussed the causes and devastating effects of deforestation on the environment and human beings, it is thus very advisable to outline the various ways through which this menace can be regulated and possibly stopped. The following are some of the major steps deemed necessary to curb the problem of deforestation;

There should be an elaborate public awareness campaign to educate and sensitize people on the need and ways of conserving forests, and all the dangers that are associated with deforestation (Roberts, 2005). Afforestation campaigns should be carried throughout the world to ensure all depleted forests are replanted and protected against further exploitation. These campaigns may be done through churches, crusades and public meetings. The youths and children should be taught lessons that touch on the need for environmental awareness and protection.

There should be proper legislation of strict laws to ensure that all existing forests are protected and any loggers and other forest exploiters are dealt with severely. Every person should take individual responsibility to plant several trees when they cut down one since the cutting of trees is not completely avoidable. It should be made mandatory to have a certain percentage of private land under trees to increase the number of trees in a country. People should adopt other cheaper and environmentally friendly sources of energy that are also renewable like solar, biogas, wind and electricity for domestic and some industrial use to avoid overdependence on trees. Companies and individuals should start using plastic fencing poles made from recycled plastics to ensure no more trees are cut down to provide these poles. The paper industry should explore other options of getting pulp from cotton plants or the cotton insect to reduce the destruction of forests in search of raw materials (Allen, 2003). Research should be carried out continuously to increase the chances of inventing other ways in which paper can be obtained without interfering with the forests. It has been known the world over that paper industries contribute to the largest proportion of forest destruction. People should adopt population regulation methods like family planning to ensure the population does not exceed the ability of the available land to provide food and shelter. This will stop the encroachment of forests since there will be proper planning and use of both public and private lands. Finally, people should adopt reclamation of arid land through the various irrigation methods to increase the size of land under agriculture rather than clearing forests to create farming lands. The world has a considerable size of land lying unused due to desertification but some countries have proved that these lands can be bearable by use of irrigation.

Conclusion

The cutting down of trees is not in itself a threat to human beings and the environment but it should be accompanied by greater responsibility. This will ensure the existing forests are preserved and protected against any exploitation and the exploited ones are regenerated by replacing the cut trees with others. The forest cover can also be increased by the introduction of forests to areas it never existed through a practice called afforestation. This can be made effective by planting trees that grow and mature very fast. Even though it may take many years or centuries to recover the lost forests in the world, it will be a worthy cause for the preservation of the environment while increasing the productivity and availability of food throughout the world and at the same time securing the life of future generations.

References

  1. Allen, W. (2003). Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Kalman, B. (.2006).A forest Habitat (Introducing Habitats).New York: Crabtree Pub Co.
  3. Morley, R.J. (2000).Origin and Evolution of Tropical Rain Forests. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.
  4. Newton, A. C. (2007). Forest Ecology and Conservation: A Handbook of Techniques (Techniques in Ecology and Conservation). New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. Palmer, T. (2008).Trees and Forests of America. New York: Abrams
  6. Roberts, J. (2005). Mythic Woods: The Worlds Most Remarkable Forests. Rio De Janeiro: WN.

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