Disappearing Forests

January 18, 2011 • Volume 5, Issue 2
Can the world's woodlands be saved?
By Doug Struck


Brazilian soldiers patrol an area of the Jamanxim National Forest (AFP/Getty Images/Antonio Scorza)
Brazilian soldiers patrol an area of the Jamanxim National Forest on Nov. 29, 2009, that has been illegally burned down. Brazil, which lost more rainforest over the past decade than any other country, is using a $1 billion grant from Norway to crack down on deforestation. (AFP/Getty Images/Antonio Scorza)

As the U.N. celebrates the International Year of Forests to promote forest conservation, thousands of square miles of the planet's woodlands are destroyed each year to make way for sprawling suburbs, palm oil and soybean plantations, cattle ranches and farms. Experts say deforestation threatens a delicate balance in which forests act as Earth's lungs: absorbing carbon dioxide — the biggest contributor to climate change — and expelling oxygen. Now, scientists say, deforestation could soon release enormous amounts of carbon gases stored in the trees, undergrowth and melting permafrost. Such a “carbon bomb,” experts warn, would exacerbate climate change, triggering even more deforestation and threatening a variety of crucial environmental functions forests perform, such as air and water purification, erosion prevention, rain production and the creation of fuel, shelter, medicines and endangered species habitat. Efforts by world leaders to slow deforestation are showing progress, but scientists say more aggressive action is needed.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Natural Resources
May 11, 2018  Water Crisis in the West
Dec. 20, 2011  The Resource Curse
Dec. 09, 2011  Water Crisis in the West
Jan. 18, 2011  Disappearing Forests
Aug. 2008  Race for the Arctic
Feb. 2008  Looming Water Crisis
Oct. 28, 1988  The Battle for Natural Resources
Mar. 21, 1951  International Control of Essential Materials
Oct. 11, 1935  Raw Materials and World Peace
Climate Change
Wildlife and Endangered Species