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Causes Of Deforestation

Any solution to the problem of deforestation must first address the social and economic reasons for the activity. While population growth and social unrest have been cited as causes, the most important reasons for deforestation are economic. The average annual income of many people in those countries most heavily impacted by deforestation is at extremely low levels. These people are forced to survive by any means necessary including subsistence agriculture and utilization of wood for cooking and heating (about two thirds of tropical people use wood fuels as their major source of energy, particularly poorer people). They often follow new logging roads to the only available property, forest land. The search for valuable hardwoods, such as mahogany and teak, is the other major source of forest clearing. Cattle ranching, plantations, and mining also provide considerable economic incentive for the destruction of forests. The social and economic value of these activities is much greater for the people involved than any perceived environmental value of the forests.

The Earth Summits of 1992 and 2002 attempted to address the linkage of social issues, economics, and the environment, though little agreement among nations was achieved. Some conservation organizations have shown that the economic wealth of one country can be traded for the environmental riches of another. A plan known as a "debt-for-nature" swap is one possible method for addressing both economic and environmental issues associated with deforestation. Many countries in which deforestation is rampant are relatively poor and are often in debt to more developed nations. Under the plan, the debt is bought (at a significant discount) in exchange for a pledge by the country to protect some portion of its valuable biologic resources, or to fund the activities of local conservation organizations within its borders. Agreements of this type have been emplaced in Bolivia, Madagascar, Zambia and other countries.



Wood, Charles H. and Roberto Porro, eds. Deforestation and Land Use in the Amazon. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002.


Stokstad, Erik. "U.N. Report Suggests Slowed Forest Losses." Science (March 23, 2001): 2294.


National Aeronautic and Space Administration. "Better Monitoring of National and Global Deforestation Possible with Satellites." May 30, 2001 [cited January 31, 2003]. <http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaAlerts/2001/200105304788.html>.

Bill Freedman


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—A longer-term change in character of the ecosystem at some place, as when a natural forest is harvested and the land developed into an agroecosystem.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Deforestation - Historical Deforestation, Deforestation Today, Loss Of A Renewable Resource, Deforestation And Biodiversity, Deforestation And The Greenhouse Effect