Did you know that today only about 3 percent America’s original rainforests remain? The fate of the world’s rainforests isn’t much better. Even though about half of the worlds plant and animal species live in rainforests, over 23 million acres of this land is destroyed each year, driving approximately 50,000 species to extinction every year. Scientists project that at this rate – thirty acres of trees cut every minute (the area the size of a football field cut every second) – a quarter of the world’s species will be exterminated in the next 50 years. But the effects of deforestation don’t stop there. Here’s a look at the major ways in which deforestation is impacting our world and our lives today.
Impact on Global Climate
(sources: stuckincustoms, shawnshawn, jamidwyer, piersbarber)
The impact of rainforest deforestation on our climate is twofold. For our part, deforestation accounts for a staggering 20 percent of all carbon emissions from human activities.This means 1.5 billion tons of carbon released into the atmosphere each year and an estimated 87 – 130 billion tons by 2100. To put it into perspective, this figure is more than the emissions that would result in over 13 years of cumulative global fossil fuel combustion. Furthermore, on the part of these natural rainforests, contrary to previous research that suggested that they emit a net positive of carbon into the atmosphere, they actually function as carbon sinks. Slowing deforestation by 50 percent from current levels (by 2050) could save approximately 50 billion tons of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere – or the equivalent of six years of cumulative global fossil fuel emissions.
Impact on Biodiversity
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A majority of the world’s deforestation activity today takes place in tropical rainforests. Incidentally, these rainforests are home to the world’s largest and most diverse species, who, because of their local/endemic distributions will almost certainly be extinct if their habitat is lost. Not only that, but these rainforests also contain millions of additional species that are either unknown or have yet to be documented, which is an immensly important fact since a substantial number of common but vital medicines and cures used today come from such plants (many of which have become endangered). Environment News Service put the extinction rate at 1,000 times the background rate and warned that the rate may climb to 10,000 times the background rate in the next century if nothing is done to prevent deforestation.
Flash Floods, Drought, Land Slides, and Raging Fires
(sources: johnperriam, ozyman, finntasia, judybaxter)
Trees in these rainforests play a vital role in regulating our ecosystem. However, when they are removed, there are a multitude of largely irreversible consequences. When the trees are no longer present, they can’t absorb the rain water through their roots and evaporate it back into the atmosphere, resulting in a much drier climate, leading most notably to drought. Additionally, when trees are no longer present to anchor the soil, this causes erosion flooding and landslides. Finally, these dried forests are much more succeptible to devastating large-scale fires such as the 1997 and 1998 fires that burned millions of acres through Indonesia, Brazil, Columbia, and other places.