Continued deforestation will doom us all, experts warn

30 Juli 2020

Even as the planet’s population continues to grow apace, its forests are being cut down to make way for more grazing land, more farmland and more development. Forests are finite resources and once they are gone they are gone for good. That is why halting deforestation worldwide is a high priority.

Earth’s forest cover is at slightly over 4 billion hectares and continues to decrease, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rampant deforestation has led to the loss of 420 million hectares in just four decades, mainly in Africa and South America.

“The top countries for average annual net losses of forest area over the last 10 years are Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Angola, Tanzania, Paraguay, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bolivia and Mozambique,” FAO notes.

“However, there is good news as the rate of forest loss has declined substantially over the past three decades,” the UN agency adds. “The annual rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares between 2015-2020, compared with 12 million during 2010-2015. The area of forest under protection has also reached roughly 726 million hectares: nearly 200 million more than in 1990.”

Yet unless we stop cutting down forests at anything like current rates, our entire global civilization could well be doomed within just a few decades, warn other experts. In a new study two theoretical physicists who specialize in complex systems argue that with diminished forests the planet will not be able to support billions of people, which will be the death knell of human life as we have known it.

“Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10% in [the] most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse,” explain the two experts, Dr. Gerardo Aquino and Prof. Mauro Bologna.

At current rates of deforestation almost all the planet’s forests will have been felled within one or two centuries, they point out. Before human civilizations came on the scene the planet was covered in 60 million square kilometers of forest, yet that rate has plummeted to 40 million square kilometers. And many of the remaining forests have been badly thinned and fragmented.

“Calculations show that, maintaining the actual rate of population growth and resource consumption, in particular forest consumption, we have a few decades left before an irreversible collapse of our civilization,” warn Aquino and Bologna.

Because forests play key roles in biodiversity, oxygen production, soil conservation, water cycle regulation and food systems, significant losses in them will trigger a cascade of environmental effects that will lead to civilizational collapse and the possible extinction of humanity, at least in its current form.

“[I]t is highly unlikely to imagine the survival of many species, including ours, on Earth without [forests],” the the physicists argue. “The progressive degradation of the environment due to deforestation would heavily affect human society and consequently the human collapse would start much earlier” than the final disappearance of forests.

Needless to say, the continued loss of forests are already posing an existential threat to countless species worldwide, including such iconic and beloved animals as tigers, orangutans and Asian elephants.

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