Frontlines of Climate Change: Deforestation
Ever since plants and fungi colonized the land 500 million years ago, forests have provided essential habitat for countless living creatures. For humans, forests initially represented shelter, sustenance, and protection. The moment we discovered that we could make fire, the value of forests transformed. When we learned how to clear forests to cultivate crops and feed our livestock, their value proposition changed again.
Covering 31% of the land, forests are the lungs of the planet, providing oxygen—the essential element for life on Earth. They are the home to innumerable exotic species, arbiters of weather patterns, carbon sinks, and temples of the soul.
Unfortunately, timber has been thoroughly exploited throughout the ages, leading to the demise of forest ecosystems across the globe. Today, only 7% of the old-growth forests remain in the U.S. Tropical rainforests are facing destruction at the rate of 100,000 acres per day (resulting in the loss of 50,000 plant, animal, and insect species annually) primarily because of the increased demand for palm oil and soy plantations.
These plantations, largely owned by U.S.-based industrial agriculture companies, are being developed in some of the most biodiverse, remote areas, taking a serious toll on virgin forest ecosystems in places like the Amazon, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is estimated that the world’s rainforests, which once covered 14% of the Earth’s land surface and have diminished to less than 6%, could vanish completely within the next 50 years at the current rate of deforestation.
Some claim that soybeans and palm oil (a primary ingredient in many processed foods) are the nemeses of our forests, contributing substantially to the quickening pace of deforestation and climate change.