One of the major environmental crises that are taking place in the world today is the extensive destruction of the Amazon rainforest. This has been a problem for four decades now, since the rapid increase in the population of the globe meant that it has become necessary to find land on which to grow crops and raise cattle for food, not to mention wood for building new houses and space to build them in. Because of the richness of resources in the Amazon rainforest, and the large amount of land that it covers, it has been the main source of these material needs. Unfortunately, this rapid exploitation of land and resources in the Amazon has resulted in a massive decrease in the rainforest’s land area, which has serious effects on the environmental climate and the numerous animal and plant species that live therein. In order to fulfill the needs of the growing population of humankind, the interests of the environment and the various animals and plants there have to be sacrificed.
To begin with, deforestation occurs for many different reasons. The main reason why deforestation is widespread today is the fact that the logging industry is relatively new. The logging industry was not capable of mass harvesting of trees until the past few decades when technology had improved significantly and brought a huge increase in the destruction of forests. When mechanized logging techniques started to take effect and long distance transportation was made easy, that was when deforestation rose to its peak (Marchak, 1995). This industrial technology sparked a mass harvesting of lumber, wood based pulp and paper all around the world, especially in the Amazon rainforest. Nevertheless, even before the technology of mechanized logging techniques appear, deforestation already occurred, albeit at a much lower rate compared to the modern period. As Patricia Marchak points out, “The national governments exercised about their territorial sovereignty or seeking ways of avoiding redistribution of agricultural land by cleaning forests to give subsistence plots to the poor” (Marchak, 1995:3). In the Amazon, high turnover (The movement of colonists, opening new frontiers and selling out to newcomers after a few years on the land) on farming plots is thought to be a major reason for land re-concentration and deforestation (Campari, 2005). Moreover, migration of farmers from old to new frontiers within the Amazon are considered a threat to the rainforest since most of the migrations are the result of failure in agriculture in rain forest soils that are too poor to sustain production (Campari, 2005). Correspondingly, agriculture in the Amazon brings an increase to the amount of lands used for ranching and other agricultural initiatives, which then leads to an increase in the rate of deforestation since lands are being cleared for production (Campari, 2005).
Due to the poor subsistence cultivators, misguided government policies, inappropriate World Bank projects, and commercial exploitation of forest resources, the Amazon rainforest has lost a large amount of land:
Between May 2000 and August 2006, Brazil lost nearly 150,000 square kilometers of forest—an area larger than Greece—and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed (Butler, 2010).
While deforestation rates have slowed down since 2004, the loss of forest is still going to continue in the future (Butler 2008). Amazon’s deforestation is coherently parallel to the rate of economic growth of Brazil. As the numbers matched the rate of decline in deforestation in Brazil during 1988 to 1991 when in 1993 to 1998 Brazil’s period of economic growth, deforestation had a significant increase in rate (Butler, 2010). In Brazil, slave labour is used to clear the forest for agriculture. According to Greenpeace,
It is well documented that slave labour is used to clear forest for agriculture. Mato Grosso and Pará – the two Amazon states at the leading edge of the soya frontier – are responsible for more than half of all the slaves reported in Brazil. Between 2003 and 2004, the Brazilian Government reported nearly 8,700 slaves in the two states (Greenpeace, 2006:5).
In addition, deforestation also plays a major role in climate change: “In recent years, we’ve seen prolonged summers, longer periods of drought and more frequent forest fires, all warning signs of the impact of climate change on the Colombian Amazon” (Hildebrand, 2010). It is estimated that deforestation causes 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emission (Moloney, 2010). In Brazil, 75 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest which makes Brazil the world’s fourth largest climate polluter (Greenpeace, 2006:5). With destroying the rainforests, it’s not only harmful to the earth’s atmosphere, but it is also harmful for the nearly 10 percent of the world’s mammals that live there. The same can also be said for the 15 percent of the world’s known land-based plants, which can be as many as 300 different species of tree in a single hectare of rainforest (Greenpeace, 2006:5). There is also a large indigenous population that would almost certainly be adversely affected by all of this. As Greenpeace reports:
The region is also home to about 220,000 people from 180 different indigenous nations who live deep in the rainforest, along with many more traditional forest-dependent communities. The rainforest provides these people with everything from food and shelter to tools and medicines, and plays a crucial role in the spiritual life of indigenous peoples (Greenpeace, 2006:5).
Analysis of the Amazon climate shows that because the Amazon recycles 50 percent of its precipitation through evaporation and transpiration (Salati, 1985), deforestation will have severely negative consequences for the species living within it.
With all that being said, there are ways to reduce the consumption of wood and other resources from the most endangered forests on the earth. Statistics show that over 78 percent of the world’s forests so far have been reduced to logs and pulp (IPCC, 2001). Nevertheless, there are many endangered species living in the Amazon rainforest. Various strategies regarding the protection of the Amazon’s rich lands are being planned by various South American governments to reduce the rate of deforestation. Such strategies include keeping it from illegal agriculture, locating large protected areas so a would-be farmer cannot claim the ownership of that land, and preventing the loss of more animal and plant species. Fortunately, these actions taken by the government have proven to work before: “Between 2004 and February 2006, President Lula protected nearly 14.5 million hectares of Amazon rainforest through the creation of national parks and areas limited to defined local community use” (Greenpeace, 2006:48).
The media briefing put out by the organization Friends of the Earth in October 2010 points out that “If current trends continue, cattle ranchers and soy farmers alone will destroy 40 per cent of Amazon rainforest by 2050.” This kind of environmental destruction threatens biodiversity as well as contributes massively to climate change in a negative manner. Most people do not realize the dire effects of deforestation, and unknowingly contribute to this environmental disaster through our unnecessarily excessive consumption of resource. Thus, it is necessary that steps be taken to cut back on the amount of resources that are taken from the world’s various forest environments, especially the Amazon rainforest. Otherwise, there may come a time when the human population will no longer have these resources to depend upon, and the climate of the earth would have been damaged beyond repair. As Hildebrand said, “If we don’t win the fight against deforestation we will lose the fight against climate change” (Moloney, 2010).
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