Football fields of deforestation. But what does that mean?

A recent newspaper article stated that Indonesia lost 4.6 million ha of forest between 2009 and 2013. This was equated to an area of three football fields ever minute.

I understand what journalists are trying to do with their frequent reference to football fields. Presumably it makes that obscure, ivory tower world of weird units like hectares and square kilometers more visible by comparing it to something everyone is apparently familiar with through their weekend television shows: 22 football (soccer) players running up and down those revered green pitches.

But how helpful is this comparison, especially when it is so inaccurate?

I searched the internet for football field – deforestation comparisons over the past few years and found that Indonesia is being deforested at a rate of: 1) 300 football fields every hour (=300 fields/hr); 2) 12 football fields every day (=0.5 field/hr); 3) 10 football fields every minute (=600 fields/hr); 4) 6 football fields a minute (=360 fields/hr); 5) 7 American football fields every minute; while also 6) Indonesia loses 300 football fields of forest every hour to palm oil alone (=300 fields/hr because of oil palm).

Based on the above statements and the variation in the size of European and American football fields, deforestation rates in Indonesia vary from 0.2 ha per hour at the lowest to 648 ha per hour at the highest. Or in the more usual measurements, between 1752 and 5.7 million ha per year. That’s a 3,000-fold difference! And at least one source ascribes most of that deforestation to oil palm.

The size of football pitches in the English Premier League already varies quite a bit with the largest, Manchester City’s, being 16% larger than the smallest (West Ham). And American football fields are 25% smaller than their soccer cousins.

Humans took the wise decision to standardize their length and area measurements to get rid of the bewildering variety of Rijnland Inches, four-inch hands, and mornings (the amount of land tillable by one man behind an ox in the morning hours of a day).

Can we just stop dumbing down the public and provide people with proper scientific measurements and units?

Deforestation is a serious enough issue affecting everyone in this world. Reducing clarity about its magnitude is unhelpful.
(Photo : Reuters)