WHAT IS DEFORESTATION?
The tropical rainforests of Sub-Saharan Africa are full of vibrant life, home to some of the world’s rarest animals and plants. The forests also provide food, shelter and fresh water to over 75 million people. However, rainforests like these are particularly at risk of deforestation. This is where trees are permanently removed to clear land for other purposes. Small scale agriculture is thought to be the cause of 90% of deforestation in Africa. Cutting down trees to provide wood for fuel is also a threat: in the DRC wood supplies over 70% of domestic energy needs.
WHY ARE THE RAINFORESTS IMPORTANT?
The rainforests play a vital role in our planet’s ability to manage carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is released when carbon-based materials like wood – or fossil fuels like coal and oil – are burnt for fuel. The forests absorb and store great quantities of carbon in their trees and soil, and in return release oxygen. This process has led to the rainforests’ affectionate nickname: the “green lungs of the Earth”.
WHY IS DEFORESTATION DAMAGING?
For local people, the destruction of the rainforests means a loss of livelihood, independence and cultural heritage. Once the trees are lost, the unique environment is gone forever. Sadly, the loss of the rainforests involves even greater harm.
Deforestation is damaging to the planet as it greatly contributes to climate change. Climate change is the consequence of too much carbon dioxide collecting in the atmosphere. The sun’s rays are caught in the atmosphere because of this gas and cause the planet to heat up. The IPCC estimates that deforestation contributes 17% of global gas emissions to this process.
Deforestation creates lots of carbon dioxide for two reasons. Firstly, removing and burning trees means that the captured carbon stored in the wood is released into the atmosphere. Secondly, deforestation reduces the number of trees that can absorb and store carbon dioxide: the excess gas can no longer be naturally controlled.
Climate change from deforestation threatens the extinction of species, rising sea levels and more extreme weather. It is the greatest environmental crisis humans currently face, and everyone on Earth will be affected by it. Clearly, preserving the rainforests is essential.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
The challenge of deforestation may seem overwhelming. However, there are several ways to better safeguard the rainforests.
- Spreading awareness of the impact that farming has on the forests could encourage more sustainable farming. For example, alternating the types of crops grown in the same field means that the soil doesn’t lose its fertility over time.
- Local people could harvest trees sustainably. For instance, if trees are harvested in different areas rather than one concentrated spot, the forest would have time to regrow.
- Forest communities could support environmental NGOs such as CoolEarth or the WWF. These NGOs focus on empowering local people. They build infrastructure like energy efficient stoves and schools, and educate community leaders on how to better safeguard the environment.