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Jungle burned for agriculture in southern Mexico, 2005. By Jami Dwyer @Wikicommons

Recent decades have seen a revival in the debate on climate change. The debate is highly salient and is frequently discussed on the news or on conferences attended by world leaders. It is a debate that centres around our emission of greenhouse gasses and its impact on global temperature. In line with the usual conclusion that these emissions do indeed influence the earth’s temperature, measures are taken to reduce our CO2 production, or at least these plans are drafted.

There’s talk about how bad cars are, or how bad it is that we eat beef, since cows produce methane. The story culminates in the idea that if we do not prevent climate change, we are heading for extinction.

But, will all that focus on global warming and Co2, other topics, which have received way more attention in the past but were never actually solved, are no longer getting the screen time and exposure they should.

One of those topics is deforestation.

There are scary articles about great extinctions taking place once the temperature rises, but at the current pace, it will only take a century for all the rainforests to have disappeared. All wildlife within those rainforests will either survive in zoos for a while, or, more likely, disappear along with the forests.

Without a doubt, we could call that event a great extinction. Even if we can maintain the global temperature, we are on a fast track towards the destruction of planet earth. On a yearly basis, we lose an area the size of England and Wales combined. Over the last 40 years, forests covering an area the size of Europe has been lost.

Clearing the rainforests disturbs the entire water-cycle of the environment, and land that was previously covered by forest can easily turn into desert. Concerns are raised even in Somalia, where the cutting of trees has turned a once lush savannah into a barren landscape. The poverty stricken area finds itself in a vicious cycle, where poverty drives them to cut down trees, which destroys the fertility of the area and only increases suffering and deprivation.

It does not stop at Somalia, another example is Malawi. The African nation has a history of burning forests to make room for agriculture, which worked out in the past as the population of the nation was small and trees had time to recover the land. With a growing population, however, this method has led to massive deforestation, which in turn ruins the fertility of the land. Malawi and Somalia should not be considered the exception.

Another aspect to remember is that forests actually absorb CO2, they clear the atmosphere of this greenhouse gas. Worse; destroying the forests unleashes even more CO2. Hence, a way to counter the effect of our use of fossil fuels would be to increase the amount of the earth covered in forests, and let the trees absorb it and clean the air.

So why is the deforestation taking place? Agriculture is a main factor. Farmers burn down the area or cut the trees to make room for their crops. Loggers cut the trees to sell the wood, legally or illegally. And cities holding growing populations are expanding, while the bordering forests must make place for houses to be built.

One crop that specifically harms the rainforest is the tree that produces palm oil. A tropical tree with a high yield crop that is used in a lot of products. On global markets palm oil is relatively cheap for manufacturers, hence its popularity.

Sadly, due to the focus being on climate change or global warming, this issue does not receive the attention it deserves. The habitat of hundreds of species is destroyed, plants, of which we may never know their medical benefits disappear, and earth’s capacity to absorb CO2 is severely diminished.

The global warming debate should not dominate the environmental discussion if deforestation continues to be ignored.