The Disappearing Amazonx
The Disappearing Amazonx
Our Disappearing Rainforests
Are we ready to say Good-bye?
Tropical rainforests are rich with beauty and their pristine landscapes are like no other; they are a
realm of their own. Most of the rainforests are located near the equator; and their location plays an
important role. In an average year, the land and sea receive more direct sunlight than those places
further away. As the sun warms the land and sea, the water begins to evaporate into the air. This
causes the air to become warm and rise. As the warm air rises, it cools, and condensation takes place
producing water droplets; the air change forms clouds and thus rain is produced. “Up to thirty
percent of the rain that falls in tropical forests is water that the rainforest has recycled into the
atmosphere.” (Lindsey) In the beginning, scientists estimated that 14% of the earth was covered in
forested land. Today, that total has decreased by half. Deforestation of this land is the cause.
Where is it occurring?
What is the cause?
What are the effects?
What is being done to prevent it?
Deforestation is occurring all over the world at alarming rates. While the majority of this
destruction is human induced, some of the deforestation happens naturally; such as wildfires,
droughts, overgrazing, and subsistence changes. In the past couple of decades, the overall
climate of the earth has increased. This warming of the climate is also having a negative impact
on the trees. In North America, millions of trees are dying each year due to an infestation of
beetles. Freezing temperatures are not occurring as early as they used to and therefore, the
beetles are able to do more damage to the trees. Most often, by the time a freezing winter hits,
the damage is so severe the tree is unable to survive into the spring. Far more damaging
however is the human induced deforestation.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Yearly, more than 15 million hectares of
tropical rainforests are destroyed. (2.47
acres = 1 Hectare) This equates to 37.5
million acres of land. The economic
global markets are invading these forests
in search of the abundant resources they
offer. Resources such as: fruit, nuts, soy
beans, coffee beans, timber, spices,
medicines, natural oils and resins can all
be found in these rainforests.
Additionally, land is being cleared for
logging, both legal and illegal;
construction of buildings, roads, and
agricultural businesses clearing the land
for planting crops or grazing cattle.
Experts estimate, that if the rate of
deforestation continues as it is,
rainforests could be gone within 100
Photo provided by Wikipedia Commons, Taken by Alex Rio Brazil, May 20, 2009
The Amazon, Brazil
“The Amazon rainforest is the largest in the
world and covers nearly 70 percent of Brazil.
The rainforest produces about 20 percent of
the Earth's oxygen and plays a big role in
controlling the climate of the entire planet.
The Amazon also is home to more species of
plants and animals than any other ecosystem
on Earth, 30 percent of the world's total. “
Photo provided by Wonderfulinfo.com
While deforestation is common to the tropical forests throughout the world, the rate at which it is occurring in
the Amazon is shocking. During the past 40 years, close to 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been cut
down—more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began.” (Wallace) Environmental
Scientists speculate the percentage could actually be higher. These statistics do not account for the illegal and
selective logging that is happening as well. In the Amazon, the biggest cause of deforestation is the industrial
size cattle ranching and soybean production. Currently, Brazil is one of the biggest beef exporters in the world
and the second largest producer behind the United States. As the world’s population continues to increase, so
too does the demand for beef. The Brazilian Beef Industry reports that the export rate has increased by as
much as 227%; and if not controlled, will further exacerbate the problem of deforestation. Furthermore, “The
Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture has set a goal to double the country's beef export over the next decade.
“(Science Daily) Meat consumption is projected to increase to 80% by 2050.
Causes of Deforestation in the Amazon
Small-scale, subsistence agriculture 20-25%
Large-scale, commercial agriculture 5-10%
Logging, legal and illegal
Fires, mining, urbanization, road construction,
Selective logging and fires that burn under the
forest canopy commonly result in forest
degradation, not deforestation. Therefore these
factor less in overall deforestation figures.
Figures and graph provided by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.com
In addition, land being cleared for soybean
production has also doubled over the past
decade. This prodigious expansion is also
driven largely by global demand. The world’s
consumption of soybeans and soybean
products rose by 52 percent. Reasons for this
are; the appealing export prices, agricultural
financing both private and public is plentiful,
and the massive swaths of fairly inexpensive
land have all contributed to the extensive
growth in commercial soybean farming across
Brazil. Unless the Brazilian government cracks
down and restricts the allowable cultivation of
land and increases the federally protected
areas of the Amazon, further expansion will
continue and further deplete the rainforest.
Photo provided by Wikipedia Commons. Taken by Marcelo R. Zak, August 15, 2006
Deforestation of the tropical forests is having catastrophic effects on the world. Deforestation causes several
problems including: Land degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity, and the lives of the indigenous people
are all affected. Land degradation causes the most severe and permanent damage to the soil. After forested land is
cleared, farmers and agri-businesses use a method of cultivating known as the Slash-and-Burn. Forest floor cover
and remaining roots of plants and trees are burned to further clear the area; making room for future planting of
pastures for cattle and soybean crops. Although the soils of tropical regions are thought to be rich and full of
nutrients, it is actually the opposite. Soils from these regions are actually nutrient poor. Most of the nutrients are
found in the plants themselves. Thus, when the trees are cut down, the nutrient poor soil only allows for 1-3 years
of agriculture cropping and then the land is no longer viable. Farmers and businesses move from the area and the
land is left dry and barren. This in turn, provides a greater opportunity for soil erosion and wildfires to come in and
destroy more of the forests.
Photo provided by Rhett Butler
Photo provided by Google Images/Slash and Burn
Slash and Burn
method of forested
Clear cutting of the
Photo taken by NASA, September 25, 2002
Land Degradation in Haiti
Climate change and loss of biodiversity is also affected; and the link between them has long been established.
Throughout Earth’s history, climate change has always occurred; altering slowly over time with our ecosystems and
species coming and going. It is the rapid climate change that has detrimental effects on the ecosystems and species’
ability to adapt and so biodiversity loss increases. As trees are cleared, animals are forced to leave their homes
unprotected and even if new habitat is found, sometimes the change alone is enough to kill them. The costs associated
with deteriorating or vanishing ecosystems will be high.
When trees and plants are destroyed carbon is released into the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas which
gets trapped in the atmosphere, warms up the earth and changes many things in many places. Trees absorb carbon
dioxide in the air and then release oxygen back out to keep the atmosphere balanced. Additionally, less trees means less
oxygen for humans and animals that rely on oxygen for survival. It has been shown that deforestation is directly linked to
the global warming the earth is experiencing. Global warming is causing more frequent extreme weather events,
changing patterns of rainfall and drought which will have significant impacts on biodiversity.
“This diversity of rainforests is not a haphazard event, but
is the result of a series of unique circumstances.” (Butler)
The Amazon Basin is a natural habitat to
many types of animals and organisms; it is
often referred to as the lungs of the earth.
Photo provided by Wikipedia Commons, Taken by Worldwide Happy Media, 2011
Photo provided by Alex Webb
Balancing our economic and population growth with preservation of all the rainforests, particularly the Amazon Basin, is a difficult task.
The Brazilian government says the situation is improving; however, more work still needs to be done to protect the land. So far, laws
and moratoriums have been passed to help try to lessen the amount of forest that is legally allowed to be cleared. Increased
protection by federal police; cracking down on illegal activities in the Amazon and abroad. Conservation groups are helping with more
public awareness of the issues at hand. On the other hand, “critics say there aren't enough agents on the ground and that more land
needs to be put under federal protection.” (Butler)
According to Daniel Nepstad, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and the study's lead author,
"market forces and Brazil's political will are converging in an unprecedented opportunity to end deforestation in
the Brazilian.” (Science Daily) Today, we stand at a crossing point; although the damage to the Amazon is huge,
there is still time for us to take action. Saving the rainforest will require a joint effort from all parties.
Cooperation, dedication, and community involvement is a must from government and business industries, both
global and local, along with efforts to lessen the poverty of the local indigenous people. Their poverty helps fuel
the drive for the destruction. The secret is finding a solution that will turn rainforests into economically valuable
national resource for countries that actually maintain and preserve them rather than destroy them. Perhaps
financial incentives could be given to countries like Brazil to keep their rainforests intact, alive and healthy.
Advocate “green consumerism” by buying recycled products, or boycotting companies that support or operate
businesses that come from the rainforests.
Postman butterfly, Heliconius
erato or melpomene (blue form)
Jaguar emerging from the Pantanal .
Lettered Araçari (Pteroglossus
Solitary Golden Black Howler Monkey (female)
Photos provided by Rhett A. Butler at Mongobay http://mongobay.com/brazil/images.html
All photos were provided by various sources at Google Images/Indigenous people of the rainforest
Inspiring such solutions is perhaps the most important first step toward ending the
destruction of Earth’s forests and increasing public awareness is crucial. Until more
people know about the threats to our tropical forests, and the consequences of such
destruction, the trees will continue to fall.
Butler, Rhett. Deforestation of the Amazon. 1999-2010. October 2011
Hitchins, Jeff. Planet in Peril. 2009. 17 October 2011 <Posted by annie1992 Z5 MI (My Page) on Sun, Sep
18, 05 at 1:31>.
Lindsey, Rebecca. Tropical Deforestation. 30 March 2007. October 2011
Science Daily. Geographers Predict Increasing Rate of Amazon Deforestation. 15 July 2011. October 2011
The CattleSite. "The Brazilian Beef Industry." September 2010. The CattleSite. October 2011
USDA. The Amazon: Brazil’s Final Soybean Frontier. 13 January 2004. October 2011
Wallace, Scott. Farming the Amazon. n.d. October 2011