The Amazon Rainforest is under attack. Home to 390 billion trees as well as thousands of different animal species, the Amazon is 10 million years old. Approximately 900,000 Indigenous people also live in Brazil’s section of the Amazon. However, deforestation in the rainforest is rapidly increasing, creating a huge worldwide problem. Globally, over 43 million hectares of forest, approximately the size of Morocco, were lost to deforestation between 2004 and 2017. In the Amazon specifically, including the sections in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana, 18.294 million hectares or 13.75% of the whole rainforest has been destroyed since 2004. Scientists believe that the forest’s “tipping point,” or the desertification and loss of the ecosystem, will occur when 20% to 25% of the forest is gone and about 17% has already disappeared. At the current deforestation rate, 27% of the Amazon will have no trees by 2030.
What are the causes of deforestation in the Amazon?
- Agriculture: This is the driving force of deforestation globally. A growing population calls for increased food consumption, and commercial agriculture is the biggest culprit. For example, 14.9 million tons of soy are produced annually on cleared fields in Brazil’s Amazon for livestock feed. The laws in Brazil require small farmers to keep 80% of the forest on their land intact but the penalties are so minimal that this ratio is rarely respected.
- Ranching: In 2018, Brazil exported the most beef of any country in history: $6 billion worth. Livestock accounts for 80% of deforested land in the Amazon and there are over 50 million cattle in the area. Agribusiness is increasing rapidly with many new individuals and companies buying huge swaths of land to set up ranches or slaughterhouses.
- Logging: One of the most obvious causes of deforestation is extensive logging because of the value of wood. Since it is legal, companies are expanding the areas in which they log and the number of trees they are cutting down.
- Burning: Although the Amazon is a rainforest, there are annual forest fires. During the driest period of the whole year, in August, farmers set intentional fires to clear fields for crop planting and unfortunately those fires can sometimes spread vastly. In 2019, data showed a 111% increase in fires from the previous year with satellites showing more than 46,000 fires burning.
- Human migration/colonization: Due to increasing economic activity and undeveloped land, many people are migrating to the Amazon for economic opportunity. These new farmers, ranchers, loggers, and business owners are purposely coming to take resources from the forest.
- Extractive industries: Besides logging, other industries such as mining build roads and infrastructure within the forest, disturbing the ecosystem. They also generate waste and clear the land to extract resources. There is a lot of illegal gold mining happening in the Amazon.
- Expanding towns and infrastructure: With increased migration and economic activity, small towns and roads on the edges of the forest are growing and they need to cut down trees to make room. The BR-39, a road from the 1970s crossing some of the most preserved parts of the rainforest, has fallen into disrepair. Recently, there has been discussion about repaving this road and doing that would lead to a 277% increase in deforestation in the region by 2050.
- Government: Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has decreased environmental regulation, fired officials, and defunded environmental enforcement. During his campaign, he exclaimed that he would not let a square centimetre of the Amazon be designated as Indigenous land. His goal is for the Amazon to become the “economic soul” of Brazil and welcome all businesses to the forest.
What are the effects of deforestation in the Amazon?
Water cycle change: Through deforestation, there are fewer trees releasing water into the atmosphere. This means that there is overall less rain in the area. With declining rainfall and longer dry seasons, the Amazon Rainforest is slowly turning into a hotter, savanna-like ecosystem. Not only is this terrible for the animals, the biodiversity, the climate, etc. but it will also cause drought for the farmers and ranchers, destroying a lot of the economic activity in the area in the long run.
Indigenous homes lost: Indigenous land makes up approximately 23% of the Brazilian Amazon. All of this deforestation close to or directly on their land is detrimental to their lives. Their resources are being stolen and their land is becoming unlivable due to harsh conditions. Their interests are ignored by the government and their way of life is disappearing.
Loss of a carbon sink: After oceans, forests are the second-largest storehouses for carbon in the world. The Amazon Rainforest alone stores up to 120 billion metric tons of carbon or 12 times the current annual global emission rates. When cutting down trees, that carbon is released directly into the atmosphere and there are then fewer trees to absorb other carbon. This makes deforestation in the Amazon a global issue.
Loss of biodiversity: Deforestation affects the entire ecosystem in the Amazon. Through decreased habitat, changing temperatures, decreased rainfall, and increased human activity, many species of plants and animals are becoming extinct.
The Amazon’s chance of survival is not looking very positive, but the fight is not over by any means. As an individual, there are three things you can do to help:
- Talk about it. The more people get educated and speak about this issue, the more governments and organizations will listen.
- Purchase thoughtfully. Look into where your products are coming from, especially wood products and beef. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council label to avoid unsustainable forest products.
- Reduce your impact on the planet. Reducing your energy consumption and carbon footprint can help lessen the impact of climate change on the Amazon. Keep in mind, however, that businesses and large organizations have a much bigger impact than individuals.