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  • Writer's pictureWayne Drury

Visualizing The World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

A great tool to use to visualize what we had, and what we now have got brought to you by Sustainable Circular Economy and thanks to the Visual Capitalist for this article.


Deforestation and land use changes account for significant contributions to global warming. More than100 world leaders have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 - Let's make sure that the target is met and the best way to do that is with evaluation of opportunities with the principles of the circular economy, focusing on People,the Planet and Sustainability

As today’s graphic using data from Our World in Data highlights, the world’s forests have been shrinking since the last ice age at an increasingly rapid pace.

Earth’s Surface Area: 10,000 Years Ago

To examine the deforestation situation properly, it helps to understand Earth’s total available surface area. After all, our world can feel massive when glancing at maps or globes. But of the roughly 51 billion hectares in total surface area on Earth, more than 70% is taken up by oceans.

What’s left is 14.9 billion hectares of land, not all of which is habitable. Here is how the land was allocated 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age and before the rise of human civilizations.

Uninhabitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

Barren land (19% or 2.8bn ha)—Includes deserts, salt flats,exposed rocks, and dunes

Glaciers (10% or 1.5bn ha)—The vast majority concentrated in Antarctica

Habitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

Forest (57% or 6bn ha)—Includes tropical, temperate, and boreal forests Grassland (42% or 4.6bn ha)—Wild grassland and shrubs

Freshwater (1% or <510M ha)—Lakes and rivers

By 2018,forests had receded to just 4 billion hectares. What happened?

Forests and Grassland Recede for Agriculture

Once humans figured out how to cultivate plants and livestock for regular sources of food, they needed land to use.

For centuries, the loss of greenery was relatively slow. By 1800, the world had lost 700 million hectares each of forest and grassland, replaced by around 900 million hectares of land for grazing animals and 400 million hectares for crops.

But industrialization in the 1800s rapidly sped up the process.

While half of Earth’s loss of forests occurred from 10,000 years ago to 1900, the other half or 1.1 billion hectares have been lost since 1900. Part of this loss, about 100 million hectares, has occurred in the more recent time period of 2000 to 2018.

The Biggest Culprit?

Though urban land use has rapidly grown, it still pales in comparison to the 31% of habitable land now being used for grazing livestock. Most of that land came at first from repurposed grasslands, but forests have also been cleared along the way.

Where Will Food Come From?

Countries pledging to stop deforestation have two major hurdles to solve: financial and survival.

Firstly, there are many companies, jobs, and economies that rely on producing and marketing goods made from forests, such as lumber.

But more importantly, the world’s rising use of landfor crops and agriculture reflects our rapidly growing population. In 1900, the global population numbered just 1.6 billion people. By 2021, it had exceeded 7.9 billion, with hundreds of millions still affected by food shortages every day. How do you feed so many without needing more land? Meat’s extremely large footprint makes prioritizing crops more attractive, and research into other solutions like lab-grown meat and grazing erosion prevention is ongoing. As the effects of climate change become increasingly felt, it’s likely that countries, companies, and people will have to embrace many different solutions at once. There are two distinctively different approaches to evaluation of solutions:

Linear Approach Most decisions made by government appear to be made taking a linear approach to decision-making. Maybe, I am "jaundiced." A linear approach takes from where we are at and gives us a singular target to achieve in a certain amount of time. An example would be the Government of Canada's edict to reduce fertilizer use 30% by 2030.

Approach Using the Circular Economy The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution using three principles: 1. Eliminate Waste and Pollution. 2. Circulate Products and Materials - at their highest value. 3. Regenerate Nature. With an evaluation using a circular economy model, there is not one solution. The Circular Economy considers the impacts on the People, the Plant and Sustainability. Evaluation with the circular economy assists with looking at alternatives, engaging with stakeholders, and arriving at viable solutions, all with the aim of what is the impact on people, the planet and sustainability. A circular economy approach makes you want to think of viable alternatives and what is the best combination to getting to where you want to go. Isn't that a better approach to just driving a target from the top down? - a methodology that has not worked yet.


Deforestation is one of the leading causes of global warming and is taking place at an alarming rate. Agriculture is largely the culprit to attempt to feed the 6.3 billion people that now inhabit earth since 1900.

Serious and life-threatening questions:

1. How to stop deforestation, feed the people, regenerate the environment and ensure


2. Will we get there with a top-down driven approach, such as just cut fertilizer use by 30%,

or should we take a better approach using a circular economy model to drive our


It is up to all of us. At Sustainable Circular Economy we are passionate to help. Please sign up for our Newsletter and Contact us if you would like to chat about how we may help you and your business with a strategy that brings you better prosperity using a circular.economy model.

All the best to you and our environment!

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