Deforestation has been happening since humans started farming and working the land.
However, over the past few centuries, it has accelerated at an alarming rate, with half of all deforestation happening in the last hundred or so years.
It’s one of the most visceral examples of our massive impact on the earth’s resources, but not all is lost.
We have lost ⅓ of all forest land
Since the 1800s we have lost an incredible amount of land to deforestation, about 1.3 billion hectares in total.
A majority of this deforestation has happened in the last century, with about a billion hectares—an entire United States of America of forests—disappearing.
It took over 10,000 years for that a billion hectares of deforestation to occur before 1900.
So in the last 100 years, we destroyed more of the forests than basically any other time in history, combined.
And that is strictly looking at only deforestation; it doesn’t take into account the grasslands loss at a more alarming rate.
Agriculture impact of deforestation
Most people believe that deforestation has to be caused by humans building massive cities, but it only accounts for 1% of all habitable land use.
The majority of deforestation and loss of grassland is caused by agriculture.
About half of all habitable land is used for agriculture, with 77% of that land going to housing and feeding livestock, and only 33% being used to grow edible crops.
Since 1900, the land used for agriculture has doubled with grazing land increasing from 16% to 32% of all habitable land.
Most of the deforestation happens in the tropical regions, including Brazil, the Americas and Indonesia. The biggest driver of deforestation in those regions can be seen below:
As you can see, cattle, oilseed, and logging are the top culprits.
Soybeans are one of the most popular types of oilseeds to be grown in these climates, which might cause some people to swear off tofu.
But only 6% of all soybeans are used for human food, the rest are used for livestock feed.
The top two drivers of deforestation, cattle and oilseeds, lead to 60% of all deforestation in the tropicals. And as global demand for animal protein increases, feed from oilseeds will increase as well.
There’s still hope
All of that is extremely alarming, and should not be taken lightly. But there seems to be some hope.
Most experts believe that we have already hit peak deforestation in the 1980s and it is starting to level off as we move forward.
Additionally, we may have already hit the peak for expanding agricultural land.
As the population increased by 147% in 50 years, the need for agricultural land only increased by 7%.
This made the land needed per person for agricultural pursuits was cut in half, dropping from 1.45 to 0.63 hectares as well.
With the advances in tech, automation and lab-grown meats, experts think that this will continue to drop and even could restore our forest lands.