Deforestation is the clearing of trees by humans.1 Though it has existed in some form since humans first evolved, it massively accelerated in the 1960s.2 Since then, over half of the planet’s tropical rainforest has been destroyed.3 It remains the greatest threat to forests worldwide with one hectare lost every second.4 This article compares deforestation pros and cons.

What are the pros and cons of deforestation?

Deforestation pros

Financial gain is behind most deforestation. As such, deforestation pros are largely economic. Logging activities around the world create jobs for those involved.5 They also lead to employment for those who use the cleared land afterwards, for example, for agriculture.6 The materials gathered through cutting down trees also provide useful commodities.7 Timber is used for construction, material goods, paper or fuel.8 

Moreover, deforestation typically creates space for agriculture.9 In South America, beef or soybeans to feed cattle replaces the rainforest.10 Meanwhile, in Malaysia and Indonesia, deforested land is converted to produce palm oil.11 Palm oil is an extremely important commodity, found in about 50 per cent of supermarket packaged products.12 It can, however, be grown in a sustainable way to minimise its impact on deforestation.13 

Deforestation cons

Deforestation is a critical issue for everyone. Greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), cause global warming.14 Forests are an instrumental part of the fight against climate change.15 Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up for hundreds of years.16 About two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are absorbed by forests annually.17 The entire woodland ecosystem, including roots, leaves, deadwood, surrounding soil and associated vegetation, plays a significant role in this process.18 Protecting and enhancing forests is one of the most cost-effective methods to combat climate change.19 

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current rate of increase.20 This would have disastrous and irreversible repercussions on the planet.21 It would lead to reduced food security as arable land area decreases and crop yields fall.22 Rising sea levels would put many small islands, coastal and low-lying areas at critical risk of flooding.23 For every degree of temperature increase, the US economy could lose about 2.3 per cent of its Gross domestic product (GDP).24 This equates to more than USD $446 billion.25 Reducing both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, whilst planting more trees, is key to tackling climate change.26 

In addition, deforestation has devastating repercussions for biodiversity. At present, one million species are facing extinction within decades due to human activity.27 25 per cent of all flora and fauna species on the planet are vulnerable.28 Forests are home to most land-based plant and animal species.29 They contain “60,000 different tree species, 80 per cent of amphibian species, 75 per cent of bird species and 68 per cent of the Earth’s mammal species”.30 Safeguarding woodland across the globe is, therefore, key to protecting all biodiversity.31 

Ultimately, the short term gains acquired by destroying old-growth forest pale in comparison to the irrevocable damage to the climate, the natural world and to human societies.

Pros and cons of deforestation infographic

 

Sources

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