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Tropical Deforestation Problems and Solutions Ji-woong Kim
Part I Understanding Tropical Rainforest
Understanding Tropical Rainforest Tropical Rainforest refers to a tropical and subtropical biome which is found around equatorial and subtropical regions. Location: the regions with perennially warm, humid climates and high precipitation. Only about 6% of the earth’s surface is covered with tropical rainforest. It includes Amazon, C. America, Equatorial Africa, etc.
Distribution of Tropical Rainforest Amazon Equatorial Africa Central America South East Asia
Deforestation refers to “the complete destruction of forest cover…[it] means that the land is converted permanently from forest uses to non-forest purposes”. (Malcolm Gillis, President of Rice University) Defining Deforestation It is certainly not a recent phenomenon as our ancestors cut down and damaged forests for many different purposes as well.
The rate of deforestation, however, has recently accelerated to an alarming level due to the penurious economic conditions in developing countries and increasing demands for wood supplies from the developed nations. Tropical rainforests in the world initially covered 15 million square km, but have been reduced to 7.5 million square km.
Destruction of these forests is fatal to us because they play influential and indis- pensable roles on the earth. Deleterious consequences of the destruction of the tropical rainforest are the following:
#1. Tropical rainforest deforestation can result in possible changes in climate and different cycles. Trees maintain the solar radiation balance by absorbing albedo from the sun. Approximately 40% of the oxygen is provided by the rainforests in the world. Trees decrease the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, the deforestation contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
The burning of the trees contribute to the increase of CO 2 level in the atmosphere. 20% of global increase in CO 2 is caused by the destruction of rainforests. maintains global precipitation patterns (distribution of water supply) as water that is evaporated from the rainforest falls as rain in other regions. Without the tropical rainforests, the hazard of desertification will increase in many areas.
Tropical rainforest contains undoubtedly the world’s largest gene pool. Its bio- diversity is so great that at least 50% of the earth’s species are living in it. #2. Tropical deforestation can destroy myriad plant and animal species. Deforestation destroys the ecosystem that is necessary for these species to live. The simplification of such a diverse gene pool will threaten stability for life on the planet.
About 137 species are disappearing worldwide each day!!
#3. Tropical deforestation can have detrimental effect on the local indigenous native people. Many Natives in the Amazon basin depend on their environment for survival. Hence, deforestation will have deleterious effects on their life style and culture.
Part II Process and Causes of Deforestation
Process and Causes Despite these deleterious consequences of deforestation, people cut down tropical rainforests for many different reasons. Studying the process (the ways in which deforestation occurs) will enable us to discover the main cause and to arrive at possible solutions to the problem.
How Deforestation Occurs Slash-and-burn agriculture The agricultural technique practiced by the penurious farmers in these regions. They burn a small portion of forest, and plant crops on the nutrient-rich ash. The fertility of the soil, however, does not last long, so the farmers abandon the land and burn different trees. Continuation of such a practice has proven to be detrimental.
Surprisingly, it is estimated that nearly 2/3 of global deforestation is caused by these poor, individual farmers.
Plantation farming The tropical rainforest is replaced by cash crop fields which can provide the country more revenues. Cash crops include rubber, coffee, and tea. It significantly reduces the diverse gene pool of the tropical rainforest as cash crop fields tend to be monotonous.
Commercial logging Countries like Brazil and Indonesia are cutting down the trees to sell the lumber to the developed countries. Consumers in relatively affluent countries have high demands for good-quality timbers; hence, developing countries are encouraged to cut more trees to make more revenues. By doing so, developing countries attempt to enhance their economic conditions.
Cattle ranching Some countries cut down the forests to make room for cattle.
Fuel wood and other domestic uses Trees are still the important fuels for cooking and other domestic uses in developing countries. Hence, many trees are cut down and burnt by local people.
Cause of Deforestation All the factors that are mentioned so far are fundamentally caused by poverty of the developing countries where tropical rainforests in the world are located. It means that prosperity will reduce the economic pressure on governments, preventing them from cutting down too many trees for commercial purposes.
The studies revealed that stabilized economy and food consumption rate can enhance the effect of education. (“Food for Thought.” The Economist. 2004.08) Education and introduction of efficient technology will prevent slash-and-burn agriculture and woods from being used as domestic fuels. Moreover, stable economy tends to halt the rapid growth of population. Thus, developing countries will not have to clear their forests for cattle ranching.
Opposing Perspectives Governments of the developing countries and logging companies argue that their prosperity relies on continuing deforest- ation. Their argument is justified as people and countries that are causing deforest- ation are mostly driven not by their greed but necessity. For the poor farmers and workers, their hunger problems are more imminent than environmental issues.
Moreover, developing countries often have a tremendous amount of debts to pay back to the developed nations. For example, the total external debt owed by the developing countries was $2.1trillion (US) in 1996, and the sum is still growing.
Brazil’s Foreign Debt (1995-2004)
Part III Possible Solution for Deforestation
Possible Solutions The causers of deforestation are forced to cut down their trees due to their poverty. Hence, it is important to attack the causes of poverty to deal with deforestation issue. Unfortunately, there is no magical solution to the problems caused by deforestation because poverty is an abstruse problem to solve. However, we can still halt and reduce the process of deforestation.
#1. Active financial aid to the developing countries and their penurious people. Developing countries’ huge national debt, educational problems, and overpopulation issues trigger them to seek economic solutions that depend on exporting their resources (i.e. tropical rainforest).
Developed nations have already begun to launch debt-for-nature campaign in which they bought debts from Brazil for preserving their Amazon forest. However, if a direct financial aid is given to these countries in return for saving their forest, the process of deforestation will be halted even further.
#2. Introducing efficient modern technologies to developing nations. Introduction of efficient alternative for fuel woods can reduce the rate of deforestation. For example, Mike Hands, a British ecologist, has found an effective and proven alternative which can replace slash- and-burn farming in the developing nations. However, few people are aware of this, and thus, this method is not used much.
If we propagate modern technologies and farming techniques to the tropical region, we can reduce the rate of deforestation significantly.
#3. Changing our own luxurious lifestyle. Countries like Brazil are cutting down trees to supply meat (cattle grazing) and hard- woods to satisfy the demands from the developed nations. Therefore, reducing our superfluous demands for such products can discourage the process of deforestation.
#4. Restoration of deforested regions: agroforestry Though restoring the deforested area is expensive and difficult, the planting of fruits and selected hardwoods can be economically beneficial for the developing countries.
Part IV Conclusion
Deforestation is a serious global issue, and we, as global citizens, should be aware of the problem. Deforestation has been conducted for centuries and will not be solved overnight. Lumber products are certainly essential in our lives, so the complete banning of deforestation is rather unrealistic. Instead, we should focus on solving its fundamental cause: poverty in the developing nations.
We will be able to gradually decrease the rate of deforestation, thereby diminishing the environmental threat. The important factor, which will determine the success of halting deforestation, is our attitude and determination. Therefore, we will only be able to effectively stop the process of deforestation by understanding the issue.
Bibliography Birchall, Gary and John McCutcheon. Planet earth: A Physical Geography. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, 1993. Dunlop, Stewart and Michael Jackson. Understanding Our Environment. 2nd Ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997. “Food for thought.” The Economist July 31 – Aug 6, 2004: 67-69 Gillis, Malcolm. "Tropical Deforestation." 1996 Rice Environmental Conference, February 22, 2000. Kingsnorth, Paul. “Global Rescue: Repulsing the Logging Invasion of Tas- mania’s Wet Eucalypt Forest.” The Ecologist Dec. 2004 – Jan. 2005: 48-55. Nasmyth, Greg. “Amazon Crime.” The Ecologist Online. January 05, 2004. Roper, John. “Deforestation: Tropical Forests in Decline.” CFAN, August 31, 2003. Staples, Sarah. “Canada’s Boreal Forests Valued at $3.7 Trillion.” The Vancouver Sun 25 November 2005: A18 "Tropical Deforestation." Earth Observatory. NASA, Undated.