|Deforestation -- Introduction|
Human beings have always cut down trees. Wood has historically
been the most dominant form of heating fuel, as well as one of
the most often used building materials for houses and ships. 25%
of the world's lumber harvest now goes towards paper production.
No one can deny the basic human need for housing. And no one can deny that any advanced culture requires a great deal of paper to transact its daily business. However, one must also recognize the importance of forests in and of themselves.
Forests are important for several reasons. First of all, many would espouse the opinion that they should be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Certainly, the family camping trip is a true hallmark of American culture. Second of all, they provide habitat for many important species. Old growth forest in the northwestern United States is the only suitable habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, for example. Tropical forests compose only 7% of the earth's land surface, but are home to more than half of the species on earth! (Source). Thirdly, forests perform important ecological functions. As aggregates of plant matter, forests do a great deal of oxygen production and help prevent excessive global warming. Additionally, forests tend to help replenish nutrients in land and thus prevent desertification. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, we need to have forests since we rely on them as a source of timber! If we exhaust our supply of forests, we'll no longer be able to continue using them as the source of our building materials, heating fuel, and paper.
Nevertheless, deforestation is a very big and important environmental problem which is yet to be effectively addressed. According to Norman Myers, who published a book on the subject in 1979, the main causes of deforestation are excessive logging, slash and burn agriculture, cattle raising and harvesting for fuel.