Population and Environment

  • Air
  • Water
  • Fishing
  • Agriculture
  • Deforestation
  • Global Warming
  • Mission Statement
  • DEFORESTATION

    Of the approximately 6,750,000 square miles of lush forest canopy that once blanketed our planet, only about 40% remain. Rain forests serve an important role in climate stability, watershed protection, soil fertility, water retention, shade, shelter from wind, prevention of soil erosion, floods , and landslides, and providing habitat for biodiversity. Each year, 28 million acres of tropical forests are destroyed through the combined action of land clearing for crop production, fuelwood gathering, and cattle ranching. Commercial timber harvesting, and commercial and residential development degrade an additional 11 million acres. In British Columbia, the largest chopstick factory in the world converts wilderness into eating utensils for Japanese markets at the rate of 7.5 million pairs of chopsticks daily. Loggers in Canada, which encompasses 10% of the world's forests, have clear-cut about 2.47 million acres a year for the past decade, collectively amounting to an area the size of former East Germany. Remaining old growth forests are being felled as fast as possible. Although there are now more forested areas in the United States and Canada than in 1900, most of them are secondary growth, consisting of biologically impoverished ecosystems with just a few tree species. Virgin forestlands, which covered more than half the lower 48 states before the Europeans arrived, have been whittled away to isolated remnants, taking many other species of plant and animal with them. Today, tropical forests cover only 7% of the earth's surface, but they house between 50 and 80 percent of the planet's species of plants and animals. Rainforests are important to the world because they regulate the world's climate. At present rates, nine developing countries will have exhausted their broadleaved forests within 25 years, and an additional 13 within 50 years. Every year , millions of people worldwide are being driven from their native lands into tropical forests and marginal agricultural lands to make their living. In addition to the need for land for agriculture, much land is deforested for fuelwood. Nearly one half the world's population depend on wood for fuel to cook and heat their homes. It is estimated that close to 100 million people are already unable to satisfy their minimum fuelwood needs. Another billion are in a "deficit situation", where they can meet their needs only by depleting scarce wood sources. As populations continue to increase and forests become more scarce, half of the people in the developing world will lack a sustainable supply of fuelwood by the year 2000. Escalating human populations, deforestation, disruptions of watersheds, soil loss and land degradation are all linked in a vicious cycle that perpetuates and deepens poverty, and often creates ecological refugees. Almost half of the world's species can only be found in the tropical forests that are threatened with destruction. As deforestation spreads, one fifth of all species could disappear within 15 years, an average of 100 species a day. Deforestation is second to the burning of fossil fuels as a human source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the primary global warming gas. As this warming continues, the resulting sea level rises and changes in weather patterns could force millions of people on the move to share their already dwindling productive land. After Asia, Latin America has the world's highest rate of deforestation, an average loss of nearly 5 million acres of rain forest yearly. Most of the destruction is from logging operations, mining and clearance for plantations, ranches and farms. Moist deciduous forests have been cut down even faster, at a rate of 7.9 million acres a year between 1980 and 1990. 40% of the total global deforestation yearly occurs in Mexico and Brazil. The once lush island of Barbados has been completely denuded of tree cover, its forests largely replaced by sugarcane fields. For the past three decades, a mounting crisis has been building in the Himalayas, the world's highest mountain range. Population pressures and land degradation have forced poor subsistence farmers higher up into watershed areas on marginal soils prone to erosion and landslides. As families grow, the average size of farms shrinks. Deforestation has triggered most of the degradation. During the past 40 years, 40% of the Himalaya's forests have been lost. Nepal has cut down nearly half its trees since the conquest of Everest in 1953. In the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, timber merchants and subsistence farmers have felled more than two-thirds of the hill forests. The downstream consequences of the Himalayan tragedy is a dramatic increase in floods.

      


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