What Is Deforestation? Causes, Negative Effects + More

The drivers of deforestation will differ depending on where in the world you look. Terrana explains that while many forests in the Congo Basin are being cut for roads and railways, for example, forests in Southeast Asia are largely cleared to make way for palm oil production.

It’s difficult to keep people from cutting down forests since they typically make money doing so. Take the Amazon rainforest as an example: Liana Anderson, Ph.D., a biologist who studies climate extremes in the region, explains that the deforestation rates in the Amazon rose dramatically at the turn of the century as more farmers cleared forest land to grow and feed cattle that they then went on to sell.

By 2005, a suite of policies was in place to protect the forest, successfully reducing deforestation by rates of up to 37% per year. However, Anderson notes, “We failed to enforce these laws. We failed dramatically.” These environmental policies had steadily been weakened in the years leading up to the massive 2019 fires in the region—most of which were intentionally set by farmers and loggers to clear land for growing crops and other commodities. Anderson says that deforestation continues to be a huge concern in the Amazon, exacerbated by practices like land grabbing (private companies claiming ownership of public land for development).

Forestlands tend to be very fertile, making them prime spots for growing. Clearing them can cause economic gain in the short term, but it comes at a dangerous long-term cost.

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