How Does Deforestation Affect Climate Change?


Deforestation is an important factor in global climate change. It is well known that deforestation is a big problem in the world today, with hundreds and even thousands of vulnerable forest being cut down both for tinder and to make way for arable farmland for cows and other livestock. Not only this could lead to an increase in the rate of deforestation quickly and easily lead to the loss of many different species of plant, tree and animal – a lot of which are yet to be discovered – it could also have a devastating effect on the climate.

One of the main reasons for this is because forests all over the globe are, naturally, so-called ‘carbon sinks’, or areas of natural environment such as oceans that can take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen that we and other animals can safely breathe. By cutting down huge areas of forest, therefore, without replacing the trees that we remove, we are causing an inadvertent change in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can have a huge impact on the rest of the world.

Forests are vital for human and animal lives as they are home to millions of species, prevent soil erosion, play a crucial role in water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere, absorb greenhouse gases that fuel global warming, keep soil moist by blocking the sun, produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

Forests cover about 30% of the world’s land area and large patches of forests are lost every year due to deforestation. If current rate of deforestation continue, there will be no more rainforests in 100 years. It is estimated that due to cutting and burning of forests every year, more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Main Causes of Deforestation

There are many reasons that we cut down forests all over the world (many of which have no completely disappeared since thousands of years ago). These are listed below:

  1. Wood and Timber
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This reason is obvious, and, of course, permissible. We need timber and wood to be able to build houses, furniture and other essential things that help us live the lives that we lead today. It is estimated that 500,000 hectares of forest all over the week are cut away each and every week by the logging industry, and that is not including the number of trees that are cut down by illegal loggers. Many of these trees never get replaced.

  1. Farmland

Strangely enough, the biggest threat to forests all over the world is not the need for timber or wood, it is the demand for arable farmland on which farmers can either grow crops or make way for cows to feed the population of the world. It has been suggested that as much as 80 percent of the farmland that was created between 1980 and 2000 meant that huge areas of forests had to be completely cut down. This means that more than half a million square miles of forest was cut down in the space of just twenty years, and more keeps getting cut down as our demand for meat and other foodstuffs creeps higher and higher.

  1. Urbanization

With more people being born every year and the older generations living for longer, there are more people on our planet than ever before. This means that we are starting to need more houses to accommodate them all, and houses need space. Some of the forest areas that are cut down are destroyed in order to make way for new houses and communities.

  1. Palm Oil

Palm oil that is not responsibly sourced has often come from a vast expanse of forest that has been cut down and not replaced with other trees or plants. Palm oil, as well as other consumer items, are harvested from huge areas of forest all over the globe and, as the demand for these sorts of products grows, so does the number of trees that are cut down.

  1. Paper

Until we start making a huge effort to start recycling paper, we are going to continue cutting down forests all around the world at an alarming rate. Paper is still common, even in today’s world packed with technology and paperless machines. We still demand books, toilet paper, kitchen towels and other products that require us to cut down trees.

  1. Mining
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Oil and mining companies require large amount of land to build plants. These plants come at a cost of chopping of thousands of plants and trees. Apart from that, roads and highways have to be built to connect cities and that requires trees to be cut down that come in the way.

Effects of Deforestation on Climate

With so many hundreds of thousands of square miles of forest being cut down each and every year (approximately 46 – 58 thousand), many of the biggest carbon sinks in the world are being shrunk drastically. This means that less of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is getting converted back into oxygen by photosynthesis, which is already having a huge impact on our climate. Below are few of the effects that deforestation can have on the climate.

  1. Global Warming

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it traps infrared rays from the sun and keeps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Whilst for the most part this is a good thing – without greenhouse gases it would be a lot more difficult for life to be sustained on the Earth’s surface – more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more and more heat is being trapped, raising the average temperature of the world (otherwise known as global warming) which is having a huge number of knock-on effects.

  1. Weather Patterns

Water vapor is another greenhouse gas that keeps heat from the sun trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and helps maintain a temperature at which life can flourish on our planet. However, deforestation also affects the amount of this in the air. Studies have shown that deforestation has contributed to the amount of water vapor in the air and, over just a few years, the amount of water vapor present has increased by four percent. Besides increasing the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, this also has knock-on effects for weather patterns.

  1. Water Cycle
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The water cycle is very important for not only us, but for species of animal and plant all over the globe. Trees contribute a great deal to the water cycle, and forests are particularly useful for regulating the way that rain is recycled back into the atmosphere to be rained down once again many miles away. By chopping down hundreds of thousands of trees every year and never replacing them, we are affecting the natural water cycle of the world, which means an increase in the pollution present in the water that now rains down on places all over the world.

  1. Quality of Life

The general quality of life not only for humans but also for other animals that live in, around and even many miles away from forests is gradually getting worse as a direct result of deforestation. Because soil is more often getting washed away by heavy rainfall because it is no longer anchored to tree roots, it is entering the main waterways of the world. Lakes, rivers, streams and even the sea are getting contaminated with soil that has been washed into them (which is sometimes contaminated with man-made materials such as pesticides and other chemicals). This means that creatures in the rivers and sea are in danger and also means that any animal that drinks from these water sources regularly could be in danger of getting poisoned.

  1. Ocean Acidification

Besides causing problems in the waterways because of an increase in soil and pesticides, for instance, deforestation has also been directly linked to ocean acidification, or the increase in the average pH of the oceans. Oceans become more acidic when more carbon dioxide is present. Because so much more carbon dioxide is now present in our air, not only because fewer trees are converting it into oxygen, but also because the processes involved in deforestation cause a lot of fossil fuels to be burned, it is gradually seeping into the oceans, raising the average pH and killing off many species of plant and animal life.

Photo by: vincent desjardins

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