Does Deforestation Cause Global Warming?

Deforestation
Example of some of the deforestation occurring in Brazil's Amazon rainforest.
Example of some of the deforestation occurring in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.1

Global warming is the increase in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. This can lead to several negative effects on people and animals, such as flooding and wildfires. 2

Trees and other plants absorb and store carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere. Because of this, they are an important tool in slowing global warming and have to be protected by humans. However, deforestation is releasing this carbon, leading to global warming occurring at faster rates. 3

How Trees Prevent Global Warming

Plants convert carbon dioxide to energy through the process of photosynthesis, which they then store. During lead respiration, a small amount of carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere, aiding other organisms, but this is quickly reabsorbed during photosynthesis.4

Many trees have long lifespans, which allow them to hold onto this carbon for more time. But deforestation releases the stored carbon back into the atmosphere, causing an increase in emissions.3

The carbon released from deforestation accumulates in the atmosphere. This traps some of the heat from the sunlight that has entered Earth’s atmosphere. This, therefore, increases the atmospheric temperature and contributes to global warming. 2

Why Does Deforestation Happen?

The effect of anthropogenically produced greenhouse gases on the environment has been known since the late 19th century. 2 In response to the issue, several countries are taking steps to preserve and replant their forests. However, many developing countries are continuing with large scale deforestation for the economic benefit of selling this valuable natural resource. 5

We can see the effects of this in Brazil. The country contributed to 76% of the forest loss in the Amazon rainforest between 2010 and 2017. 5 We can attribute much of this to the country’s new policies that allow for the development of Brazil’s mining and cattle ranching industries, as well as the suspension of fines for illegal forest clearing. Continued deforestation such as this threatens many species that rely on these forests for food and shelter. 5

Deforestation is largely driven by corporate motivation closely linked with financial gain and very little regard for the environment. Not only will continued deforestation impact local communities, but we will feel the negative effects globally. 1 By looking into whether the products we buy contributed to deforestation, we can all help to reduce the global warming caused by deforestation.

References:

1 Record deforestation in the Amazon rainforest confirms official Brazilian data, Merco Press, 19 November 2019

2 What is global warming, explained, National Geographic, 22 January 2019

3 Effects of Deforestation, Pachamama Alliance, n.d

4 Photosynthesis and Respiration, Photosynthesis Education, n.d

5 Amazon Destruction, Mongabay, 26 February 2020

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