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The 5 causes of deforestation revealed

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Imagine a world without trees… Can’t you? Neither do we! But unfortunately, this is already becoming a serious possibility. Researchers estimate that around 15 billion trees are cut down every year.

At the same time, however, only 5 billion trees are planted every year1. This means that our world is losing over 27 million trees EVERY DAY!

“But how is that even possible?” I hear you cry out in alarm. The answer is: deforestation. Huge areas of forest are disappearing every day, and the consequences are a real nightmare.

In this article, we take a look at the 5 main causes of deforestation on our planet and list 9 (vital) reasons why we really shouldn’t cut down trees.

5 Causes of deforestation uncovered

Agriculture on an industrial scale

Of the billions of trees felled every year, up to 85% are cut down to make way for industrial agriculture. Most of the deforested land is used as grazing land for cattle or for growing fodder for cattle.

In Brazil, one of the largest meat-exporting countries in the world, this practice has led to the deforestation of millions of hectares of the Amazon rainforest2.

In Asian countries, on the other hand, large areas of forest are often cut down to make room for oil palm plantations. Palm oil is very versatile and can be found in millions of products.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, production has led to considerable deforestation.

Deforestation for timber extraction

Trees are often felled for their wood: high prices are paid for tropical woods such as mahogany, ipę (Brazilian walnut), jatoba (Brazilian cherry), ramin and nyatoh because of their appearance and durability.

Timber companies source these slow-growing trees from South America, Africa and Asia. And although the companies are only interested in the valuable trees, destruction follows them at every turn.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), 70 % of deforestation is the result of the construction of access roads by timber companies.

Once a tropical forest area has been invaded, the probability that it will soon be completely deforested increases eightfold3.

Expansion of mankind and its infrastructure

Entire forests are being cut down to make room for the world’s growing population: Villages are growing into cities, and infrastructure such as power stations and water treatment plants are growing with them. This is a direct cause of the deforestation of enormous areas.

The needs of the cities are also leading to large-scale deforestation elsewhere. New York City, for example, is one of the largest consumers of tropical hardwoods.

It is estimated that the city’s waterfront promenades contain over 2 million meters of Brazilian walnut wood. These have to be replaced regularly, which has already led to large-scale deforestation to procure ipę4.

Climate change and forest fires

Climate change is leading to extreme weather conditions all over the world. Forests are destroyed by drought, floods, storms and other natural disasters.

This year, forest fires, which spread uncontrollably due to the extreme drought, caused great devastation. Many old forests have also been lost in Europe.

Over 120 million hectares of forest have been destroyed by fires in the last 20 years. And with every tree that burns, the carbon dioxide it has so carefully hoarded is released back into the atmosphere. For this reason, fire is one of the worst ways to lose trees.

You may also be interested in: 9 unexpected benefits of trees.

Mining in forests

According to the World Bank, 44% of all operating mines are located in forests. Mining causes deforestation in many ways: Trees are cut down to create access roads and make way for buildings and huge processing areas.

Roads built for exploration purposes also lead to new forest areas being opened up for industrial agriculture.

Mines also cause environmental pollution, which contributes significantly to deforestation: The mercury used by gold miners poisons watercourses and kills both animals and trees.

Entire villages were displaced by the resulting destruction. This is a particular problem in Ghana, where economic development in the form of numerous small-scale mining operations has a major impact on the environment5.

Creating more opportunities

Developing countries such as Ghana are the worst affected by deforestation. Too often, Ghanaians have to take jobs that harm trees, simply because they have no other choice. They need the money to feed their families.

By employing local people in our reforestation projects and paying them a fair wage, we can help to change this.

People are much happier in a job that allows them to create something beautiful and useful! Our reforestation projects give them this opportunity.

Read here how we support the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

9 reasons why we shouldn’t cut down trees

Trees give us the air we breathe

When it comes to vital causes, there is none more important than this: Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the world’s most dangerous greenhouse gases, and convert it into the oxygen we all need to live.

A single large tree can supply up to four people a day with oxygen6. So cutting down trees actually robs us of the air we breathe.

Trees combat climate change

Trees are nature’s superheroes! They combat climate change by removing billions of tons of harmful CO2 from the earth’s atmosphere every year and storing it safely. However, there is also a flip side to the coin.

One of the worst consequences of deforestation is probably this: All this CO2 is released back into the atmosphere when trees are cut down and burned.

Trees offer protection from deadly storms

All over the world, trees act as barriers against storms and storm surges: In the Philippines, for example, mangroves protect entire islands from being washed away.

Researchers have also found evidence that forests prevent the formation of hurricanes and tornadoes7. Areas affected by deforestation lose this protection: the associated loss of human life and property is enormous.

Trees are the source of vital products

Trees provide countless products without which humans cannot live – literally. They provide nutritious fruits and nuts, spices (such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg), maple syrup and ingredients for cosmetics and medicines. Aspirin comes from the bark of the willow tree, and one of the most effective cancer drugs, Taxol®, is extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree8.

We could list many more examples – you know how we are… But many fantastic tree products have not yet been discovered and may never be discovered if we do not stop deforestation and the consequences of deforestation.

You can help by trying out some of these fabulous, surprisingly simple hacks that protect trees!

Trees support millions of creatures

Trees provide millions of creatures with a home, a source of water, protection and food. These include entire ecosystems, in which all too often many of the world’s rarest and most beautiful creatures have their place.

The deforestation of rainforests has a serious impact on biodiversity and threatens the survival of endangered species such as orangutans, clouded leopards and forest elephants.

Trees prevent soil erosion

For centuries, people have been cutting down trees to make room for agriculture. One of the consequences of deforestation is that fertile soil is lost through erosion.

The roots of the trees stabilize the soil, while their shade helps to retain moisture in the soil and protect young plants from hot sunlight.

Trees stop avalanches and landslides

Trees also help to save hundreds of lives every year that would otherwise be lost to devastating landslides and avalanches. Tree trunks and branches stabilize the snow mass, while their roots anchor the slope9.

Trees also improve the soil’s ability to absorb water. Some of the worst natural disasters have been caused by cutting down trees: one example is the recent massive landslide on Ischia10.

Trees are essential for the water cycle

Trees collect water and filter out pollutants and sediments. The result is clean water that supplies entire communities11.

The water vapor emitted by the leaves is also needed to balance the water cycle: The consequences of deforestation in areas where people grow crops to survive are serious: the poorest regions of the world, where deforestation is at its worst, are repeatedly hit by droughts.

Trees are important for mental health

Trees make us happy! Hand on heart, it’s really true: a study published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health in May 2022 shows that there is a clear link between deforestation and poor mental health in entire populations12.

For us as individuals, spending time in a forest offers relaxation and mental recuperation. This is the basis of forest therapy. Trees are good for us all round!

We cannot live without trees

So why shouldn’t we cut down trees? The answer is: we simply can’t live without them. Each tree supports hundreds, and even thousands of lives: People, animals and plants.

Plant trees

Trees are one of the most important components of our planet. When our trees disappear, terrible things happen. Which consequences of deforestation do you think are the worst?