The Human Toll of Cutting Down Trees | The Living Urn

The Living Urn

The Human Toll of Cutting Down Trees

The long-term survival of humans may hinge on the health of the rainforest.

A recent  study from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research asserts that the world’s tropical rainforests might just be the best defense we have against the climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. According to NASA and NCAR, the world’s tropical rainforests can absorb a staggering 1.4 billion tons out of the 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide that are naturally absorbed by the earth’s natural systems each year.

Deforestation is clearing earth's forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area and 13 percent is covered by tropical rain forest, but large areas of rain forest the size of Panama are lost to deforestation each and every year. The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in less than a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation, and what would that do to the earth?  What impact would a world without a rainforest and an additional 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually have on future generations?

Forests are cut down for many reasons, but most of them are related to money or to people’s need to provide for their families.The biggest driver of deforestation is agriculture. Farmers cut forests to provide more room for planting crops or grazing livestock. Often many small farmers will each clear a few acres to feed their families by cutting down trees and burning them in a process known as “slash and burn” agriculture.

As we cut down trees to make way for human industry, this greatly impacts the ability of the forest system to trap and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The process of burning trees to clear forest areas also releases all of the absorbed carbon stored by trees and other plants back into the atmosphere.

Simply put, less trees equals more carbon. Unless we drastically change the current rates at which we are creating greenhouse gases, we are set to experience rapid warming and the most severe impacts of climate change if the world’s rainforests are not protected. The northern forests might not be able to absorb the majority of our carbon dioxide and NASA and NCAR believe the tropical rainforests will continue to absorb a large share of greenhouse gases. If people do not change the rapid rate of deforestation, the world’s rainforests could disappear in the next 100 years.  

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