How deforestation affects climate, animals, and humans – and why we should care

Manu national park, Peru

Half our planet’s forests have been cut by humans in the last century, resulting in the unprecedented release of carbon dioxide and the aggravation of the greenhouse effect. The detrimental effects of deforestation include land erosion, soil changes and the loss of ecosystems. It also threatens both the habitat and thus the survival of many animal species and puts the wellbeing of humans at risk.

Animal ecosystems are perhaps affected the most. The Amazon rainforest alone is home to more than 400 mammal and 1,300 bird species. And in the last 50 years, the Amazon lost 17% of its forest cover. As the trees are cleared, the wildlife that once thrived there has become endangered. Animals such as the South American tapir, the giant otter and red-faced Uakari monkey have now been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered species list, and more than 100 birds are also at great risk, according to the list, including the Rio Branco antbird and the hoary-throated spinetail.

Bald uakari monkey

The Amazon rainforest in southern Peru is perhaps at the forefront of climate change, ranked by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as one of the top deforestation fronts globally. Commercial mining, small-scale agriculture and illegal logging are the driving forces behind the fact that about 1,100 square miles of the rainforest in Peru is cut every year. And as the extraction of natural resources continues, the looming threat on the environment becomes more real.

With 260,000 square miles covered by rainforest, Peru is second only to Brazil in terms of forested areas. And with the rainforest comes biodiversity, as well as the reliance of some 300,000 people on the various rainforest ecosystems. Without the rainforest, indigenous villagers no longer have coverage from the sun, which causes a slew of health issues. The ecosystem has changed, too, affecting the food supply – the fruit ripens and rots faster, and the animals are smaller. Peru is now looking at various conservation planning scenarios that can potentially slow down the rate of degradation, as well as instituting measures to eradicate illegal logging.

On the other hand, Costa Rica has been a stellar example of reforestation, sustainability and preservation efforts. In the last 30 years, it has doubled its forest cover – half of the land surface is covered by forest. The efforts are backed by national policy of environmental protection.

Similarly, in Guatemala, forestry projects are taking place in an effort to provide an efficient solution to make up for the damage caused by deforestation. One solution is to plant the macadamia nut tree, which has an extensive root system and can therefore prevent soil erosion. It can be used as a source of food and firewood. In fact, each tree converts 63 cubic feet of CO2 and releases 55 gallons of water vapor – which is why it is perhaps the most economically viable option for reforestation.

Macadamia nut farm

In addition to helping the planet, preserving the rainforest and ensuring the safety of many animal species, reforestation is an essential source of income for local indigenous communities. And while it may not be possible to stop the degradation of the jungle altogether, many organizations are working tirelessly to slow down or reverse the damage done by deforestation.

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