Excerpted text from Tropical Deforestation, a NASA Fact Sheet. Urquhart, G. R., D. L. Skole, W. H. Chomentowski, and C. P. Barber. 1998. Tropical Deforestation. NASA Facts Sheet (FS-1998-11-120-GSFC).
The clearing of tropical forests across the
Earth has been occuring on a large scale
basis for many centuries. This process,
known as deforestation, involves the cutting
down, burning, and damaging of forests.
The loss of tropical rainforest is more profound than
merely destruction of beautiful areas. If the current rate
of deforestation continues, the world’s rain forests will
vanish within 100 years—causing unknown effects on
global climate and eliminating the majority of plant and
animal species on the planet.
Why Deforestation Happens
Deforestation occurs in many ways. Most of the
clearing is done for agricultural purposes—grazing
cattle, planting crops. Poor farmers chop down a small
area (typically a few acres) and burn the tree trunks—a
process called Slash and Burn agriculture. Intensive, or
modern, agriculture occurs on a much larger scale,
sometimes deforesting several square miles at a time.
Large cattle pastures often replace rain forest to grow
beef for the world market.
Commercial logging is another common form of
deforestation, cutting trees for sale as timber or pulp.
Logging can occur selectively–where only the economically
valuable species are cut–or by clearcutting, where
all the trees are cut. Commercial logging uses heavy
machinery, such as bulldozers, road graders, and log
skidders, to remove cut trees and build roads, which is
just as damaging to a forest overall as the chainsaws
are to the individual trees.
The causes of deforestation are very complex. A
competitive global economy drives the need for money
in economically challenged tropical countries. At the
national level, governments sell logging concessions to
raise money for projects, to pay international debt, or to
develop industry. The logging companies seek to harvest the forest and make profit from the
sales of pulp and valuable hardwoods such as mahogany.
Deforestation by a peasant farmer is often done to
raise crops for self-subsistence, and is driven by the
basic human need for food. Most tropical countries are
very poor by U.S. standards, and farming is a basic
way of life for a large part of the population. In Nicaragua,
for example, the average annual earnings per person is
U.S. $1080, compared to $47,000 per person in the
United States (World Bank, 2009). In Brazil, which
holds the majority of the Amazon rain forest, the average
earnings per person is $7350, about one sixth of what Americans make. Farmers in these countries
do not have the money to buy necessities, and need to clear land to feed their families.
Above text taken from author's contribution to Tropical Deforestation, a NASA Fact Sheet. Urquhart, G. R., D. L. Skole, W. H. Chomentowski, and C. P. Barber. 1998. Tropical Deforestation. NASA Facts Sheet (FS-1998-11-120-GSFC).
Deforestation: A Personal Perspective
Banana farms and other "farm-factories" in the tropics cause a lot of deforestation and the rainforest has a very difficult time growing back. One of the best things you can do for the rainforest is to buy organic bananas, which come from farms that are less damaging to the rainforest.
Tropical wood production causes a lot of deforestation too. Sometimes the furniture at the store is made from tropical woods. If it says "Made in Malaysia" or "Made in Indonesia," then it is probably rainforest wood. Try to buy woods that don't come from the rainforest, like Oak, Maple, Pine, and Cherry.
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