The Amazon Rainforest is the largest in the world, spanning eight countries and covering around 40 percent of South America, an area nearly as large as the USA. The Amazon covers 6 percent of the Earth’s surface but shockingly it used to cover 14 percent, more than double what is left of it today. Sadly, deforestation has destroyed huge areas of the rainforest, with over 600,000 square kilometers wiped out since 1970. One and a half acres of rainforest is estimated to be cleared every second and at the current rate we might not have a rainforest at all within a generation.
The Amazon rainforest is a vital part of the ecosystem. It provides 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen, and 60 percent of all fresh water. It is a living, breathing organism that provides us with life, and currently we treat it with a disrespect that can only backfire back to us. All of the time regional governments and corporations push for the clearance of land in the name of progress. Demand for commodities such as beef, palm oil, soy and sugar lead to increase in financial interest, often helped along by government incentive. Some of the reasons why we are losing the Amazon are explored below:
The Cattle Industry
Much of the deforestation which occurs in the Amazon, especially in Brazil, is a result of the growing demand for beef, and the increase in possible sale price, which encouraged ranchers to expand their land. Huge areas of the Amazon are ripped down to make way for pasture land to support the cattle, and the industry has been growing exponentially, representing 38 percent of deforestation in the 1970’s and a huge 70 percent in Brazil today.
Trees are burnt down and undergrowth with it, as the land is fully cleared out. It is then seeded with grass for the cattle to eat, and the Amazon jungle becomes as shadow of its former self; nothing but pasture land. The meat is mostly sold to urban markets, and the leather exported.
Small Scale Agriculture
The second contributer to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is actually subsistence agriculture, as apposed to larger scale developments. These projects are largely the result of destructive government colonization programs, which aimed to alleviate the poverty of the urban population by giving rainforest land to the poor. In some cases the results have been more than a little disastrous, and have lead to environmental nightmares, without even providing any benefit to the people that were included in the schemes.
One such example is the construction of the 2000 mile long Amazonian highway in Brazil, which aimed to carve a path into the forest for exploitation of timber and minerals, and to provide a place for people to settle and farm. The plan was in ruins from the word go; the highway was unstable, and was frequently blocked off by heavy rains, leaving people and crops stranded. Soils and techniques were also poor, leading to more rampant clearance of forest for land, and most of the settlers ended up in debt from the easy loans they were offered. Many settlers become reliant on their agriculture, but the damage now accounts for between 20 and 25 percent of the destruction of the rainforest in the Amazon.
The cattle industry is the largest and most destructive industry in the Amazon, but other growing commercial industries have also infiltrated the nature there. The soy bean is one of the most damaging products cultivated in the Amazon, due to the unsustainable nature of the rapid development, and methods used. The boom was brought on by the discovery of a new variety of soybean; one that could grow well in the rainforest. From the early 1990’s to the mid 2000’s the soybean became one of the main contributers to the damage in the rainforest, with huge areas of deforestation occurring for its growth.
Other forms of commercial agriculture continue to burn away the land, including palm oil, rice, corn, and sugar cane. Trade also requires infrastructure and the building of roads in and out to transport the goods. Commercial agriculture accounts for around 5-10 percent of the deforestation damage.
The logging industry in the Amazon is supposedly highly controlled, and timber can only be harvested in designated areas. However, much illegal activity still occurs in Brazil and Peru. Logging is closely linked with road building and agriculture in the Amazon; areas which have been cleared are more likely to become accessible and are often used for settlers land or commercial exploitations. Logging accounts for around 3 percent of deforestation.
Mining and Oil
Another industry which has a hugely negative effect on the Amazon is mining. Certain areas of the rainforest are rich in minerals and precious metal resources. Many countries in the Amazon have faced mining in some way or another, including the development of huge gold mines in Peru. Gold mining has increased 400 percent in the past 13 years, and the oil industry too might be making an invasion, and was recently granted license to explore and exploit.
One of the main concerns with the exploitation in the Amazon is that profit driven companies and governments are the huge driving forces behind it all. They need to be pressurized in order to change their ways, and in light of the immense importance of the issue, put the planet before profits for once. Another huge driving force that leads to the destruction of the rainforest is human greed; the over-consumption of beef, and palm oil, our need for gold at the expense of the planet, for example.
With more awareness people can become better informed about what not to consume in order to protect the Amazon rainforest, and therefore the planet, and therefore our species. Pressure from groups has already caused some changes for the better. Greenpeace launched a high profile campaign which culminated in soy companies committing to stopping deforestation. Environmental campaigners also pushed the Brazilian government and cattle buyers to clamp down on their destruction, leading to new policy to make loans and grants harder to obtain. Do what you can today, and spare a thought the Amazon.