On 15th March 2021, the air quality index was recorded at 42 in Tokyo, 17 in Sydney, and 26 in New York. The air quality in Beijing, on the other hand, was off the scale at 999. China offers an example of how large-scale deforestation has exacerbated issues related to sandstorms and pollution.1
While the Chinese government is reportedly trying to tackle deforestation, Beijing’s air quality index illustrates how cutting down trees in large numbers can have a dramatic impact.
Deforestation in China
Around a quarter of all land in China is desert, which until recently has been growing at a speed of 1000 square miles per year. Facing an alarming situation, the government created a plan in 1978 to build the Green Great Wall of China as a barrier against desertification.2
The plan illustrates the extent to which deforestation is threatening the Chinese people and their food supply. This desertification has happened primarily due to deforestation, and the misuse of land and water throughout the 20th century.3 To fight deforestation and desertification, the government is now planting tree saplings, covering an area the size of Ireland, each year.4
Deforestation in Brazil
While China is spending significant sums of money on planting trees, Brazil is doing the opposite. Deforestation across the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has surged to its highest level since 2008. This is a total of 4,281 square miles of rainforest that has been destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020, according to a government agency.5
There are renewed global efforts to stop the destruction of the Amazon, frequently dubbed the ‘lungs of the earth’. However, so far, their impact has been limited.7
Examples of deforestation across the world
While the world has woken up to the danger that deforestation poses to us all, this worrying trend has still continued. New data suggests deforestation around the world increased by 50 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, forest loss alerts have increased by 77 percent compared to the 2017-2019 average. That is according to data compiled by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD). “In some parts of the world there has been a collapse in the local economy and people are turning to the land around them to find what they need to survive”, said Mike Barrett from the World Wildlife Fund – UK.8
Deforestation doesn’t just degrade the land, increasing the likelihood of desertification, sandstorms, and flash flooding. It also releases stored carbon dioxide into the air.9 The release of greenhouses gases, such as CO2, warms up the atmosphere and speeds up climate change. The destabilization of weather patterns due to climate change will further disrupt our food supplies, destroy agricultural land and housing, and raise sea levels.10
- the Guardian. (2021). Beijing skies turn orange as sandstorms and pollution send readings off the scale. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/15/beijing-skies-turn-orange-as-sandstorm-and-pollution-send-readings-off-the-scale.
- www.abc.net.au. (2019). China plans to plant 88 billion trees for its 5,000km “Green Great Wall”. This is why. [online] Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-17/green-walls-in-china-and-africa-keeping-deserts-at-bay/11602796.
- Science. (2017). China’s “Great Green Wall” Fights Expanding Desert. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/china-great-green-wall-gobi-tengger-desertification [Accessed 25 Mar. 2021].
- Zastrow, M. (2019). China’s tree-planting drive could falter in a warming world. Nature, 573(7775), pp.474–475.
- Brazil’s Amazon: Deforestation “surges to a 12-year high.” (2020). BBC News. [online] 30 Nov. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-55130304.
- Dom Phillips (2019). Bolsonaro declares “the Amazon is ours” and calls deforestation data “lies.” [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/19/jair-bolsonaro-brazil-amazon-rainforest-deforestation.
- Watts, J. (2019). Amazon rainforest fires: global leaders urged to divert Brazil from the “suicide” path. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/23/amazon-fires-global-leaders-urged-divert-brazil-suicide-path.
- Financial Times. (2020). Global deforestation accelerates during pandemics. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/b72e3969-522c-4e83-b431-c0b498754b2d.
- Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012). Tropical Deforestation and Global Warming. [online] Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/tropical-deforestation-and-global-warming.
- Nunez, C. (2019). Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at a record high. Here’s what you need to know.[online] Environment. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/greenhouse-gases.