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Nature in danger: Deforestation climbs high

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By Nithin Sridhar

The Center for Global Development based in Washington recently undertook analysis and interpretation of data and satellite imagery from around 100 countries and have estimated that around 714 million acres of tropical forests, roughly the size of India, may be cut-down by 2050.

tree-141692_640The report further observes that this deforestation may further add up to 169 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050.

Deforestation is a world-wide crisis which will have far reaching and long-term consequences on the ecology and future of the world. Forests play a very vital role in the ecological cycle. They serve as carbon storage banks and hence help in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by absorbing them during photosynthesis.

Forests are also a big source of various commercial and medicinal products. Tropical forests, in particular, are home to various species of plants, birds, and animals. Without forests, the rich bio-diversity cannot be sustained which in turn will lead to ecological disaster. The green cover helps to enrich the soil and recharge the ground water level.

Forests also help in regulating the water cycle. They prevent wastage of rainwater and allow it to permeate through the soils into the ground water. This water in turn helps various animals and birds through ponds or streams and to humans through man-made wells.

One of the major reasons for deforestation is agriculture. For last many centuries, forests have been repeatedly cut down and cleared to cultivate those lands with food and commercial crops. While, farming and producing food is important, the consequences of these actions were not given importance. Forests were also used and are still being used as a source for firewood and timber. A large number of trees are cut every day for utilizing the logs for various human purposes like buildings houses, making furniture, making paper etc. Industrialization has also been another major reason for felling of trees.

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Other causes include forest fires, mining, wars and battles, overgrazing, urbanization etc. The zeal shown in the cutting of trees does not match the enthusiasm which needs to be there while planting new trees. As a result, the area under forests is dwindling every day at a fast pace. It is clear that the major causes of rapid deforestation are the human thoughts and actions. Neither people have a clear perspective about the vital role played by forests, ecologically or economically, nor do they show any interest to know about it. Furthermore, some people work under the assumption that the world is forever present for providing them and fulfilling all their fancies. Therefore, there is a competition between humans and all other species present in the world over natural resources.

In “Deforestation: Causes, Effects and Control Strategies”, while explaining about these driving forces of deforestation, Sumit Chakravarty and others, quote Pearce and Brown thus:

1. Competition between humans and other species for the remaining ecological niches on land and in coastal regions. This factor is substantially demonstrated by the conversion of forest land to other uses such as agriculture, infrastructure, urban development, industry and others.

2. Failure in the working of the economic systems to reflect the true value of the environment. Basically, many of the functions of tropical forests are not marketed and as such are ignored in decision making. Additionally, decisions to convert tropical forests are themselves encouraged by fiscal and other incentives.

DSC_7139One of the most important consequences of deforestation is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide will lead to increased trapping of heat on the earth surface and hence increasing the temperature of earth’s surface. Therefore, the decreasing forest cover can be directly correlated to global warming; which will further lead to climate change that will cause heat stress, floods, draughts, crop-failures, water scarcity etc.

Other harmful effects of deforestation include destruction of biodiversity, decrease in soil fertility and decreased ground water levels. Deforestation will also impact the world economically and socially. Water and food scarcity will induce more migration and food wars. Many indigenous people will also be devoid of their forest homes, hence causing a destruction of their entire culture.

The best measure to tackle growing deforestation is to strictly monitor felling of trees and to plant new trees. The reforestation programs will have long-term positive impact on the globe. At the same time, the rate of deforestation must be brought down. Brazil can be a good example, which has reduced deforestation in the Amazon. Controlling population growth can be another effective measure.

Massive awareness campaigns to increase awareness about forests and sincere efforts by various governments across the globe can definitely bring down the deforestation and may even slowly increase forest cover.

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Brazil Rainforest Deforestation Jumps 67% in First Seven Months as Government Attacks Data

Brazil contains roughly 60% of the rainforest

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In the Atlantic Forest in Bahia, fire and deforestation of hill slopes are forbidden by Brazilian law, but law enforcement is ineffective. (Credit: IESB archive). VOA

Deforestation in Brazil’s rainforest has jumped around 67% in the first seven months of the year, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s space research agency, which the government has attacked as misleading and harmful to the national interest.

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) monitoring system registered destruction of 4,699 square kilometers (1,814 square miles) this year compared to 2,810 square kilometers in the previous period monitored, data on the agency’s website showed.

In July alone, 2,255 square kilometers of Amazon forest were lost, more than triple July 2018’s 597 square kilometers, according to INPE. That is the largest monthly deforestation registered by the agency in years and nearly the land mass of Luxembourg.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, a bulwark against global warming often called the “lungs of the earth” because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it soaks up and recycles into oxygen.

Brazil contains roughly 60% of the rainforest. Environmentalists and researchers blame President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric in favor of economic development in the Amazon for emboldening loggers, ranchers and informal miners since he assumed office in January.

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The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Wikimedia Commons

Bolsonaro has vehemently criticized the data from INPE and fired the head of the agency on Friday over what he called “lies” that hurt the country’s trade talks. “News like this that does not match the truth causes great damage to the image of Brazil,” Bolsonaro said in a press conference last week.

The country’s space research agency, independent scientists and environmentalists, however, have all defended the data as accurate. Fired INPE director Ricardo Galvao told Reuters on Saturday that he continued to defend the figures as showing an “undeniable” spike in deforestation.

A retired Air Force colonel, Darcton Policarpo Damiao, will head the agency for now, the government said on Monday. Damiao has a doctorate in sustainable development and his thesis was on deforestation in the Amazon, according to the announcement.

Due to cloud cover and other factors, deforestation registered in a certain month may have happened in a prior month, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said last week. At a news conference with Bolsonaro, the minister suggested that discrepancies of that kind made it impossible to trust the data.

Salles said deforestation should only be measured with more exact annual figures, published in the so-called PRODES data series, instead of the rapid-response DETER data, which is updated almost daily.

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The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Wikimedia Commons

Yet comparing longer periods of time – the first seven months of the year, for example – virtually eliminates concerns over when the deforestation actually took place, according to Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of geographic initiative MapBiomas. MapBiomas is a collaboration between universities, non-profit groups and technology companies to monitor deforestation, drawing from several different sources including INPE data.

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Tasso called the government criticism of the DETER data baseless, estimating its accuracy at more than 90%. Sharp rises in the rapid-response data have consistently corresponded with an increase in the year-end figure, he added. In fact, the annual PRODES figures have always shown even worse deforestation than detected by the faster DETER data over the past decade.

“Why does (Salles) spend so much time trying to say that the alerts happened earlier or later, when he could use the same time to take some action,” Azevedo said. “Instead of indicating what they’re doing to reduce deforestation, they’re criticizing the deforestation data.” (VOA)