The Human Truth Foundation

Deforestation

By Vexen Crabtree 2021

#biodiversity #deforestation #environmentalism #over-exploitation #the_environment

Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
1Iceland+205.6
2Bahrain+144.4
3Uruguay+131.3
4Kuwait+81.2
5Dominican Rep.+79.5
6Egypt+65.9
7Vietnam+65.6
8Ireland+62.2
...
177N. Korea-38.7
178Niger-41.3
179Pakistan-41.7
180Honduras-43.6
181Mauritania-45.9
182Uganda-56.4
183Nigeria-59.4
184Togo-72.6
q=184.

Forests are carbon sinks, mitigating against climate change2,3. Unfortunately, we are destroying over 70,000 km2 of forest each year4. In the last few thousand years, we've removed 30-40% of the Earth's forest cover5,3, mostly to clear space for agriculture, and for logging6,7. The produce from both is shipped from poorer countries to richer ones. Half-hearted government efforts and company obfuscation of supply chains makes it almost impossible for consumers to tell which foods and products are from sustainable sources, and which ones are encouraging irresponsible deforestation, meaning that there is little incentive for companies to relent.

The effects are catastrophic. 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation8,6. It brings soil erosion from wind and rain which, over time, can almost-permanently stop any hope of growing food9, and spreads desertification. Entire ecosystems are collapsing as a result, including ones that we depend upon10. The water cycle is driven by forests, and their loss reduces ordinary rainfall, increases flooding, removes an abundant source of water filtration, and contributes to a rise in water levels.11.

Some regions of the world are increasing their forest cover3; the best from 1990-2015 are Scandinavia (+37.0%), The Middle East (+29.0%) and The Mediterranean (+19.2%)1. There is an overall trend that developed countries gathered their riches by using up their natural resources, and now, they pay poorer countries to use up theirs instead, whilst they can afford to slowly rebuild their natural environments. But it's not wholly that simple - some rich regions are still burning through what they've got. The regions clearing their forests fastest are Central America (-20.9%), Africa (-08.0%) and North America (-02.2%)1.


1. A Global Issue With Only Patchy Governmental Engagement

#china #climate_change #deforestation #easter_island #environmentalism #globalisation #internationalism #nationalism #politics #UK #USA

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development noted that "cutting and burning forests was resulting in a build-up of carbon dioxide in the Earth´s atmosphere, which would trap solar radiation and result in global warming"12. Now, the rate of destruction has reached levels that couldn't have been imagined in previous generations.

More than seven million hectares of forest are destroyed each year, driven by global demand for timber, paper and land for commodity crops.

"The State of the World's Birds" by Birdlife International (2018)8

Many of these ecologically important areas remain at risk, including across 24 deforestation fronts where over 43 million hectares have been lost between 2004 and 2017.

"Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard" by World Wildlife Foundation (2021)13

The issue of deforestation is thousands of years old and entire societies have collapsed as a result of deforestation. Easter Island tragically lost its entire population once the last trees had been felled due to the environmental damage and loss of trade14. Another classical civilisation, the Anasazi native Americans, managed to deforest parts of what is now south-western USA14.

Forests around the world are under threat from deforestation [which] comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber, and degradation due to climate change. This impacts people´s livelihoods and threatens a wide range of plant and animal species. [...]

Many of the world's most threatened and endangered animals live in forests, and 1.6 billion people rely on benefits forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter. [...] Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink - soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns. Deforestation undermines this important carbon sink function. It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation.

"Threats: Deforestation and Forest Degradation" by World Wildlife Foundation (2017)6

We only have two generations to stop uncontrolled deforestation before recovery becomes meaningless15. As well as stability of weather systems, biodiversity is at risk. Tropical rainforests "are outstanding in their levels of biodiversity"7, and alone house one third of all land species, and habitat loss and habitat degradation is causing entire ecosystems to collapse as a result of our actions10.

Many poor countries have little option but to continue to use up their natural resources. Wood is the only source of fuel for one-third of our population16 - and that population is going to double by 2050"Climate Change" by Stephen Peake and Joe Smith (2009)16. Despite this, much of the rich world have populations that are moaning about having to help other countries.

Large countries struggle to meaningful attain positive statistics, but, there are examples of them doing so. Since 2008 China has been striving to meet a "2020 target for expanding the nation's forests to cover 23 percent of its landmass to combat climate change and soil erosion"17 and the United Nations reports that between 1990 and 2015, China increased its total forested area by one third.

Getting countries to agree to curb harmful emissions and take more care with the environment is seemingly impossible. Why should the UK shrink its economy by reducing greenhouse gas output, when the biggest polluters of the world carry on with business as usual, gaining a market advantage? Likewise, why should China invest in costly greening programmes whilst the USA does not? And why should Africa curb its industries when it is merely playing catch-up to the developed countries who got rich by exploiting resources from Africa?

It isn´t lack of knowledge that hampers environmentalism. It is the economics, politics and policies of self-interested nations that form the seemingly insurmountable barriers to realizing a sustainable world. Politics is complicated, difficult and most of all, slow. The required interconnected solutions need strong international cooperation, but since the 21st century, many nations have veered back towards self-interested policies, and internationalism is stagnant.

2. The Destruction of the Amazon Rainforest

#brazil #environmentalism #farming

The Amazon rainforest, in Brazil, hosts 15% of Earth's biodiversity, 40% of our tropical forests, and 'stores tens of billions of tonnes of carbon'3. In the last 40 years, we have destroyed 20% of it, generally for cattle farmers and plantations18. Soya-bean producers too, as a result of a surge in demand for things like chicken feed19, since the 1990s10,18. Before this period, it took us 450 years to clear the same amount18. One third of all species on Earth only live in the Amazon18, and we have directly caused the extinction of thousands of them.

The Amazon basin['s rainforest] stores tens of billions of tonnes of carbon. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest cannot be mitigated by planting trees elsewhere: Mr Kanemoto and Mr Nguyen estimate that the environmental impact of losing three Amazonian trees might be more severe than the loss of 14 trees in a boreal forest in a country like Norway. Younger forests also may have less carbon-sequestering ability than old ones, because they aren´t as tall.

The Economist (2021 Mar 29)3

In 2020, helped by Covid-19 lockdowns, the world's carbon emissions may have fallen by 7%. But not in Brazil, which increased its emissions by 10-20% compared to when they were last measured, in 2018.19

The culprit is deforestation. In the first four months of 2020 an estimated 1,202 square km (464 square miles) were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, 55% more than during the same period in 2019, which was the worst year in a decade. Come August, when ranchers set fire to cleared areas to prepare them for grazing, runaway blazes could outnumber those that shocked the world last year.

Environmentalists blame Brazil's populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, for the catastrophe. He favours deregulation to allow logging, mining and farming in the forest. [...] In a video of a cabinet meeting in April [2020] released by the Supreme Court, the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, called on the government to "push through" deregulation while people are distracted by the pandemic. [...]

In 2009, a damning report from Greenpeace led JBS, Marfrig and Minerva, meat giants which together handle two-thirds of Brazil's exports, to pledge to stop buying from suppliers that deforest illegally.... using satellites to detect clearing. Soya traders such as Cargill and Bunge have used such systems... since 2008, when retail firms like McDonald's and Tesco said they would no longer buy Amazonian soya harvested on deforested land.

The Economist (2020)19

But it is only occasionally that public relations pressure is strong enough to force companies - and Brazilian presidents - to take action. Since 2012, the temporary drop in deforestation was obliterated by renewed chopping19.

One easy way around the rules against buying produce from deforested land is so simple, it's painful to hear of its effectiveness. Firms use deforested land to fatten up their livestock, and then move the cattle to legal farms before selling them. On paper, it looks legit as long as you don't do any investigating. Easy - and it's obvious. After Greenpeace reported that a protected Amazon reserve was destroyed, and that JBS, Marfrig and Minerva sold beef grown on the cleared land, they claimed that they didn't know it had come from illegal sources19. Smaller companies are much worse on average, but harder to keep track of. So the lie is allowed to persist by the companies involved, by the Brazilian government and by its law enforcers.

3. The Burning of Indonesian Peat Forest

#china #climate_change #deforestation #india #indonesia #norway #papua_new_guinea #philippines #thailand

Indonesia burns and chops through its peatland forests at a great rate. It cleared 41% of Sumatra's cover from 2000 to 2010 alone, and 25% on Borneo; plus further losses on its other islands20. This makes Indonesia one of the world's worst drivers of climate change. Peat forests sequester abundant quantities of carbon for us, and burning them creates more methane than other kinds of forest20. Each hectare of peat forest lost creates 55 metric tonnes of carbon20.

It is facilitated by rich countries buying Indonesian produce; for example, China funds deforestation there through its importing of rubber and timber3. Palm oil is another culprit: 85% of the world's supply comes from Indonesia13 - and it finds itself in some of the develop world's favourite foods, such as chocolate and pizza.

Around 40% of Indonesia's deforestation has been in protected areas in recent decades20; loggers arrive first, and then burn the remaining vegetation in order to clear space to sell on to plantation firms20. The Indonesian government isn't doing much about it - nor is the world. Large companies find it easy to obfuscate their supply chains and source produce from illegally deforested areas. There is low-key public awareness of the evils of unsustainable palm oil in things like Easter Eggs; some confectioners have simply responded by not using the exact phrase "palm oil" on packaging. The World Wildlife Foundation reports that since they started tracking companies in 2009, efforts at tackling unsustainable Palm Oil production "fall drastically short" of what's needed13.

An attempt by Norway all-but-ceased in 2016 when its environment minister concluded "we haven't seen actual progress in reducing deforestation" - it was paying Indonesia $1bn if it managed to do so21. It's unclear what can be done, but, it needs to be an international effort with enough motivation to overcome national barriers and multitudes of expensive lawyers and PR firms being employed by the industries involved.

Kalimantan [Borneo]'s lowland forests are almost entirely gone, and as better roads make the highlands of the interior more accessible, forests there are vanishing too. [...] Indonesia contains around 14.9m hectares of... peat forests [which] can be as much as 200 times more damaging to the atmosphere when burnt than other types of vegetation, both because they store more carbon and because more of it is released as methane, an especially harmful greenhouse gas. The average incinerated hectare emits the equivalent of 55 metric tonnes of carbon. Peat forests also take far longer to regenerate than [other] forests. [...]

Joko Widodo, the president, universally known as Jokowi, created a government agency charged with restoring peatlands, the site of around half of last year´s devastation. He issued a presidential moratorium on new palm-oil plantations and ratified the Paris agreement on climate change, committing Indonesia to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 29% by 2030. [But] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi´s predecessor, also promised to halt deforestation, to little avail.

The Economist (2016)20

Ever-growing global demand for palm oil is raising concerns that production in new parts of the world could result in the same negative impacts that have historically been observed in Southeast Asia. Oil palm development is expected to continue in Asia, including in new regions such as Papua New Guinea, Thailand, the Philippines, India, and central and eastern parts of Indonesia. But it is also slated to rise in Latin America, where production has already doubled since 2001,17 as well as Africa.

"Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard" by World Wildlife Foundation (2021)13

4. Regional Data

#biodiversity #deforestation #japan #over-exploitation #the_environment

AreaForest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)
Higher is better

%1
Africa...-08.0
Asia...+07.0
Australasia+03.4
Baltic States+06.3
Central America-20.9
Europe...+15.0
Melanesia+00.1
Micronesia00.0
North America-02.2
Polynesia+09.2
Scandinavia...+37.0
Small Islands...+06.6
South America+03.7
The Americas...-00.2
The Balkans+12.7
The Caribbean...+07.5
The Mediterranean+18.3
The Middle East+27.2
World+02.8

The table here shows the deforestation rate for the average country in different continents and groupings. Click on the column headers to sort them by value.

The statistics show forest cover, but another important measurement is fragmentation. This is where forests are encroaching upon by logging, roads, or other artificial disruptions. Deep interior forests harbour different species to forest edgelands. "Overall, Europe has faced the most human-caused fragmentation and South America has the least"5.

Chart of deforestation footprint of Brazil, US, China, Japan and GermanyThe country-by-country and regional data isn't simple. It's not simply the case that Europe is doing better than North America: It imports volumes of processed resources, and so can rebuild its forests whilst outsourcing destruction to other countries. Typically, the movement goes from poor countries to rich ones, and from poorly regulated regions to places where rules are tighter. And so, more in depth tracking is required: hence, carbon footprints and now, deforestation footprints.

Keiichiro Kanemoto and Nguyen Tien Hoang, of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Japan, combined data on global forest loss with that on international trade between 2001 and 2015. They calculated that rich-country demand [...] contributed to a net loss of 20,000 square kilometres of forest in the rest of the world in 2015 alone.

The Economist (2021 Mar 29)22

5. Small Islands

#deforestation #easter_island #environmentalism #france #iceland #mauritius #norway #small_islands #st_helena

The colonial era saw the first documentation of the long-term disaster that deforestation can bring if land is not managed sensibly. The effects were worst on islands, where resources were limited and hard to replace. Without forests, rivers suffered, and fresh water supplies were contaminated. On islands surrounded by undrinkable oceanic saltwater, that's a critical loss9.

In a few decades, or even less, settlers began to notice that their activities were having seriously damaging effects on the environment of the islands that were so crucial to their maritime ventures. Some of the first problems documented were the effects of deforestation. A visiting French scientist reported of 18th-century Mauritius [that] 'reckless and ignorant men, thinking of nothing but themselves, have ravaged the island, destroying the trees by fire to make a fortune for themselves at the expense of the colony, leaving nothing for their successors but arid lands abandoned by rain and exposed without relief to storms and the burning sun'.

"Environmental Changes: Global Challenges"
Brandon, Clark and Widdowson (2009)9

After deforestation in St Helena, colonists noted that the weather "washes away the soil till the naked rocks appear"9.

In the far east of the Pacific Ocean, the island of Rapa Nui (the local name for Easter Island) is one of the most notorious cases of ecosystem collapse. Archaeologists now believe that the collapse of Rapa Nui came about primarily through the overexploitation of forests, as a result of the demands arising from the construction and transportation of the monumental stone sculptures the island is now famous for. After the loss of vegetative cover and soil erosion came social conflict and population collapse - with a decrease from an estimated 10 000 people in the 17th century to a few thousand a century later.

"Environmental Changes: Global Challenges"
Brandon, Clark and Widdowson (2009)9

Book CoverBy the 1860s, civilisation on Easter Island had completely collapsed and the population was a mere 111 people. Poor soil quality and a drought caused by the loss of freshwater filtered by the (now gone) trees, along with rats and other imported pests, were going to take a very long time to overcome. But it was impossible now that the islanders could no longer build their ocean-faring boats.9

By the mid-18th century, theories about human-induced climate change were widespread among island administrators, and it was broadly accepted that deforestation posed a serious threat to the whole colonial project.

"Environmental Changes: Global Challenges"
Brandon, Clark and Widdowson (2009)9

And so, some countries have learned.

When Norwegian colonists of Iceland first encountered an environment superficially similar to that of Norway but in reality very different, they inadvertently destroyed much of Iceland's topsoil and most of its forests. Iceland for a long time was Europe's poorest and most ecologically ravaged country. However, Icelanders eventually learned from experience, adopted rigorous measures of environmental protection, and now enjoy one of the highest per-capita national average incomes in the world.

"Collapse" by Jared Diamond (2005)23

6. Deforestations Statistics For All Countries

#biodiversity #deforestation #over-exploitation #the_environment

Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
1Iceland+205.6
2Bahrain+144.4
3Uruguay+131.3
4Kuwait+81.2
5Dominican Rep.+79.5
6Egypt+65.9
7Vietnam+65.6
8Ireland+62.2
9Tunisia+61.9
10Cuba+56.9
11Cape Verde+55.7
12Rwanda+50.9
13Bhutan+34.7
14Azerbaijan+34.6
15Spain+33.2
16China+32.6
17Montenegro+32.1
18Syria+32.1
19UAE+31.7
20Samoa+31.5
21Moldova+28.2
22Israel+25.0
23Swaziland+24.2
24Greece+22.9
25Philippines+22.7
26Lesotho+22.5
27Italy+22.5
28Turkey+21.8
29Iran+17.8
30France+17.7
31Algeria+17.3
32Bulgaria+17.1
33Thailand+17.1
34Chile+16.2
35Hungary+14.0
36Morocco+13.7
37UK+13.2
38Denmark+12.6
39Lithuania+12.1
40Belarus+10.9
q=184.
Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
41India+10.5
42Gambia+10.4
43Macedonia+10.3
44Serbia+09.9
45Netherlands+09.3
46Switzerland+09.0
47Ghana+08.2
48St Vincent & Grenadines+08.0
49Costa Rica+07.5
50Romania+07.4
51Cyprus+07.2
52Fiji+06.7
53Laos+06.3
54Poland+06.3
55Liechtenstein+06.2
56Latvia+05.8
57Uzbekistan+05.7
58New Zealand+05.1
59Slovenia+05.1
60Lebanon+04.8
61Gabon+04.5
62Ukraine+04.1
63Croatia+03.8
64Iraq+03.3
65USA+02.7
66Georgia+02.6
67Austria+02.5
68Finland+01.8
69Ivory Coast+01.8
70Czechia+01.5
71Germany+01.2
72Estonia+01.2
73Seychelles+01.1
74Palestine+01.0
75Tajikistan+01.0
76Slovakia+01.0
77Russia+00.8
78Sweden+00.8
79Mongolia+00.1
80Japan00.0
q=184.
Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
81Afghanistan00.0
82Yemen00.0
83Tuvalu00.0
84Libya00.0
85Tonga00.0
86Maldives00.0
87Vanuatu00.0
88Turkmenistan00.0
89Djibouti00.0
90S. Africa00.0
91Kiribati00.0
92Andorra00.0
93Malta00.0
94Saudi Arabia00.0
95Grenada00.0
96Oman00.0
97Bahamas00.0
98Barbados00.0
99St Kitts & Nevis00.0
100Norway-00.2
101Papua New Guinea-00.2
102Canada-00.3
103Jordan-00.6
104Suriname-00.6
105Guyana-00.8
106Malaysia-00.8
107Armenia-00.9
108Bosnia & Herzegovina-01.5
109Congo, (Brazzaville)-01.7
110Central African Rep.-01.7
111Albania-02.2
112Sierra Leone-02.4
113Trinidad & Tobago-02.6
114Jamaica-02.7
115Australia-02.9
116Kazakhstan-03.3
117S. Korea-03.9
118Sao Tome & Principe-04.3
119Bangladesh-04.4
120Ecuador-04.4
q=184.
Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
121Burundi-04.5
122Antigua & Barbuda-04.9
123Congo, DR-04.9
124Peru-05.1
125Angola-05.1
126Singapore-05.2
127Mexico-05.3
128Solomon Islands-06.0
129Mauritius-06.1
130Kenya-06.6
131Eritrea-06.8
132St Lucia-06.9
133Portugal-07.5
134Zambia-07.9
135Brunei-08.0
136Panama-08.4
137Madagascar-08.9
138Colombia-09.2
139Sri Lanka-09.4
140Brazil-09.7
141Venezuela-10.3
142Guinea-Bissau-11.0
143Senegal-11.5
144Guinea-12.4
145Mozambique-12.5
146Bolivia-12.8
147Dominica-13.3
148Liberia-15.2
149Belize-15.5
150Equatorial Guinea-15.7
151Haiti-16.4
152Tanzania-17.6
153Ethiopia-17.8
154Malawi-19.2
155Botswana-21.0
156Namibia-21.0
157Burkina Faso-21.9
158Argentina-22.1
159Cameroon-22.6
160Somalia-23.2
q=184.
Forest Area Change 1990-2015 (2015)1
Pos.Higher is better
%1
161Indonesia-23.2
162Kyrgyzstan-23.8
163Comoros-24.5
164Nepal-24.7
165Benin-25.2
166Guatemala-25.4
167Myanmar (Burma)-25.9
168Cambodia-26.9
169Chad-27.3
170Paraguay-27.6
171Timor-Leste (E. Timor)-29.0
172Mali-29.5
173El Salvador-29.7
174Nicaragua-31.0
175Zimbabwe-36.6
176Sudan-37.5
177N. Korea-38.7
178Niger-41.3
179Pakistan-41.7
180Honduras-43.6
181Mauritania-45.9
182Uganda-56.4
183Nigeria-59.4
184Togo-72.6
q=184.