Tropical Deforestation and Its Effect on Global Climate
Rainforests are the predominant natural vegetation throughout the wet tropics. The defining characteristics of a tropical rainforest are temperature and rainfall. Wherever temperature is high enough and rainfall heavy and regular enough, there is rainforest (Bagheera, 1996). Tropical rainforests of all kinds once covered approximately 14 percent of the Earth’s surface, more than eight million square miles (Conservation International, 1998); forming an equatorial green belt around the Earth rich in diverse plant and animal species. Humans have already destroyed half of this forest area, with most damage occurring in the last 200 years (Bagheera, 1996). In 1987 alone an estimated 20 million acres of Brazilian rainforest were cut and burned (Miller & Tangley, 1991, in Kricher, 1997). At the current rate of deforestation, within 177 years all tropical rainforests on Earth could be gone (Kricher, 1997). The effects of this massive deforestation have already begun to influence the planet. Among the many threats of tropical deforestation, global warming is perhaps one of the most severe. For this reason, a look tropical deforestation and its effects on global climate change will be the focus of this paper.
Tropical deforestation refers to the cutting, clearing, and removal of rainforest, usually converting it into other less biodiverse, unsustainable ecosystems. Deforestation is often done for short-term profit at the expense of long-term sound economic and ecological policy (Kricher, 1997). Many factors have attributed to the destruction of rainforests especially over the last two decades. Rainforests are being cut and burned for agricultural use, re-settlement of people, timber harvesting, and various other anthropogenic uses. Socio-economics put a price tag on each of these resources without regard to the consequences Earth may suffer from them. In contrast to destructive practices that profit a few but destroy the forest for all, intact tropical rainforests provide long-term, widely distributed benefits. These benefits include increased biodiversity, protection of wildlife, food, fuel, medicines, building materials, and global climate stabilization (Bagheera, 1996,p.2). Due to the magnitude of tropical deforestation that has occurred, its potential affect on loss of biodiversity and alteration of world climate, this is arguably the most important global conservation issue today (Kricher, 1997).
Global warming and tropical deforestation have a symbiotic relationship, each being a causal factor for the breakdown of the other. For each hectare of forest that is cleared and burned, about 220 tons of carbons are released into the atmosphere (Holloway, 1993). Carbon is released primarily in the form of CO2, carbon dioxide, with the burning of fallen vegetation from cleared forest. In addition, the cleared forest is no longer there...