23 Mar

Map of the Week: Speaking for the Trees

The loss of forests is an issue that could have potentially far-reaching effects. Forests help absorb greenhouse gases, are crucial to the water cycle, and support 80% of the world’s land plants and animals (National Geographic). The type of destruction which they are enduring, largely due to agriculture, needs to end.

This week’s map looks at where this deforestation is happening. Using data from the World Bank, change in forest coverage (in square kilometers) over twenty years (1995 to 2015) is displayed by country where this data was available. Some countries had data for the past few years, such as South Sudan, but were excluded because the data did not go back to 1995.

Particularly troubling is the deep orange in red in much of Latin America. With few exceptions, the region’s forests are at great risk. Brazil alone has lost over 400,000 square kilometers of its forested area, which nearly equals the land area of California. A recent New York Times article covers the subject in detail, noting that much of the progress from the rainforest preservation movements of the last decade has been undone in recent years. Agriculture is one of the major driving forces of this change, harming the region from Mexico to Argentina.

On the other side of the world, an unlikely country shows remarkable – yet somewhat inconsistent –growth. China, well along its project to build a “Great Green Wall,” has seen its forests grow with the goal of spanning 4,500 km by 2050 (The Economist). Reportedly, 66 billion trees have been planted by Chinese citizens since 1978. This is promising, but some have criticized the execution of the plan. Jiang Hong of the University of Hawaii calls the project and “ecological mismatch,” where many of the planted trees are non-native pine and poplars. According to The Economist, these are meant to be easy to grow, leading to a higher volume of wood that can be sold for paper pulp or planks.

The world has lost over 900,000 square kilometers between 1995 and 2015. Nearly equal to the size of Nigeria, this is a troubling loss of a crucial resource. This map of the week highlights just where deforestation was most threatening in the 20 years covered.