Always a matter of concern, the topic of deforestation and its potential threats to the planet has gained more urgency. A recent report, titled Effects of Tropical Deforestation on Climate and Agriculture, was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, on Dec. 21. It lays out in plain and disturbing language the activities that are causing these dangers to loom ever closer.
Decimating the rain forests accelerates the rate at which carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This in turns amps up global warming and transforms rainfall patterns. The report shows these effects put future agricultural productivity at a significant risk. The study offers a comprehensive analysis of climatic effects and impacts of tropical forest destruction.
The conclusions of the study imply that deforestation activities in Africa, Southeast Asia and Africa could impact agriculture in the U.S. and Europe. Researchers created innovative new climate models that took into consideration all direct global, regional and local impacts of diminishing tropical forests to study their effect on the atmosphere around the world.
They conclude the total impact of destruction of tropical forests may potentially cause an increase in temperature of 0.7 degrees Celsius in addition to the predicted influence of greenhouse gases. Continued warming would double. Crops would suffer damage. Related flooding would cause significant crop failure around the world.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Deborah Lawrence, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, believes that tropical deforestation delivers hard-hitting punches both to climate and farmers. As tropical forests get chopped down, those regions will experience noticeable warming and drying. This is because removing trees and then planting crops releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide. Deforested areas, at the same time, are less capable of retaining needed moisture, which then alters local weather patterns.
Like the Butterfly effect, the impact of such changes goes beyond the immediate location, across countries, continents and oceans. Local deforestation is already making its mark on regional climates. The reduction of rainfall during Thailand’s dry season and in Sao Paulo, Brazil is believed to be a result of deforestation. By 2050, deforestation is expected to cause a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions.
Dr. Charlotte Streck, Director of Climate Focus endorses the peer-reviewed study. She calls it a compilation of meticulous scientific data that helps to serve as a guideline for a plan of action for climate change. As tropical deforestation impacts are felt globally, combatting and mitigating deforestation is an important strategy.
Already, roughly 20 percent of the Amazon has suffered deforestation with noticeable effects: drastic decreases in moisture levels, dynamic changes in cloud and rain patterns, and a longer dry season. Professor Lawrence warns that reaching 30 to 50 percent deforestation for the Amazon and Central Africa could be the limit before disaster strikes.
Although deforestation presents a very real threat to the planet, the efforts of nations in addressing this issue are varied and unbalanced. Brazil has controlled it to a great extent, but Indonesia’s tropical forests have suffered further damage. China says it will cap emissions by 2030, whereas India is focused more on economic growth.
Low-lying nations are more vulnerable as sea levels rise. Jakarta, the Indonesian capital city is under threat. It sinks at a rate of seven centimeters per year. Experts opine that half the city will be under sea level by 2030.
In South Sudan people are dependent on trees for survival. The country’s oil production is exported, leaving only wood and charcoal for fuel. The current rate of deforestation will destroy forests there within a few decades.
The conservation of the Amazon rainforest is integral to combatting global warming and climate change. Ironically, in Peru, the venue for this year’s UN climate change conference COP 20, logging continues at faster rates than ever before. Denuding of forests occurs from many causes: slashing and burning for agriculture, harvesting hardwoods for the construction and other industries.
Deforestation of tropical forests in the southern hemisphere is accelerating at a threatening rate for the planet. Forest-dependent communities, agricultural production, food stores, climatic catastrophes, and even the survival of low-lying nations are all likely to be impacted. Global warming and climate change distort rainfall and temperature patterns across the world. It is incumbent upon governments, organizations, industries and individuals to step up, recognize the potential dangers and take action.
By Bina Joseph
Photo by Crustmania – Flickr License