Deforestation in the Amazon

Deforestation in the Amazon

By Nicole Bozkurt and Julie Young

The Amazon Rainforest has immeasurable intrinsic and ecological value, but even such– the rainforest is burning. The rainforest is home to the enormous Amazon river, which  contains 20 percent of the world’s flowing fresh water. Although the Amazon covers only four percent of the earth’s surface, it contains a third of all known terrestrial plant, animal, and insect species and 10 percent of all biomass on Earth. This means that when deforestation takes place, the vast amounts of carbon that the forest stores are released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The state of Rondônia, Brazil was once home to over 208,000 square kilometers of rainforest, but fires have left 67,764 square kilometers barren. That is nearly the size of the entire state of West Virginia, lost to deforestation. Scientists and environmentalists say the reason the Amazon is on fire is because farmers are deliberately starting blazes in their efforts to clear land for crops or livestock. One researcher estimated that humans start 99% of all Amazon rainforest fires.

It has been 326 days since the first fires began blazing the Amazon. This massive rainforest that once converted carbon dioxide into oxygen is now releasing carbon dioxide due to these fires. As time goes by, the rainforest is being further depleted. Once deforestation in the Amazon reaches 25% of the rainforest, there will be significant global impacts– and with nearly 15-17% of rainforest burned to the ground, we need to act deftly to save this vulnerable habitat. 

Once the deforestation of the Amazon reaches 25%, an irreversible process called dieback will begin. As more earth is torched, there are fewer trees to cycle moisture throughout the rainforest ecosystem, eventually drying out the forest and leaving it as a savannah. Without these vast rainforests in the world, the earth will lose massive carbon sequestration sites. This excess carbon will join the rest of the world’s carbon emissions in the atmosphere, leading to further global warming. 

Fires in the Amazon are an unnatural occurrence, meaning they can only be traced back to human destruction. These fires are deliberately set to clear massive amounts of rainforest for cattle farming. Since Brazil is the largest beef exporter in the world, soy is grown, where the forest once stood, to feed cattle. As farms expand, so do the fires. 

The Brazilian Amazon is 1.5 times larger than portions of the jungle found in any other country, making Brazilian policy and protections particularly important globally. Under President Bolsonaro, Brazil’s environmental policy enforcement has been replaced with an order to clear the Amazon. These fires are not only affecting the thousands of species that inhabit the Amazon rainforest, but also the idigenous people. Bolsonaro took away indigenous rights, fighting to destroy the rainforest with Brazil’s military backing him. Activists are worried that the rainforest will be completely destroyed under Bolsonaro’s power.

Indigenous People have suffered under Bolsonaro’s reign

“Even in the face of an alarming scenario for the Amazon, with increased fires, deforestation, invasions of protected areas, and violence against Indigenous Peoples, the government hasn’t presented any consistent policy to protect the forest and its peoples; on the contrary, the government is taking the side of environmental crime,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, an Amazon campaigner.  

According to Smithsonian, the Amazon rainforest home to 30 million people. Of this, 1.6 million of these inhabitants are indigenous, and they belong to more than 400 different indigenous groups. Some are isolated tribes who choose to avoid contact with the outside world. The indigenous populations have held a crucial role protecting the Amazon for thousands of years, though they are met with negligence and disregard from Bolsonaro. Indigenous peoples have established their own organizations in all nine countries of the Amazon region. 

The U.S. plays a large role in Amazonian deforestation through the consumption of products that contribute to deforestation in their supply chains. Despite a dire political situation in Brazil, U.S. markets can create a real impact when it comes to curbing current the alarming trends. The U.S., as a major purchaser of beef and soy from Brazil, can play a large role in protecting the Amazon from further deforestation.

For example, a new motion is being adopted by the City of Los Angeles to help eliminate the purchase of products derived from deforestation. Bolsonaro seems to pay attention when it comes to trade, and actions in the U.S. to address the deforestation crisis can hopefully serve to push the political needle in Brazil.

Weakening environmental protection and continual threats on Indigenous lands threaten not only the Amazon but the entire world. An analysis of the carbon sequestration capacity of the Amazon, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that between 2003 and 2016, the Amazon actually emitted more carbon than it could absorb. However, Indigenous land and protected territories absorbed more carbon than areas without protection. These researchers found that 70 percent of the total carbon emitted from the Amazon between 2003 and 2016 came from areas outside of Indigenous-held land and protected areas.


Sign this petition by Amazon Watch to End the Big Business of Burning:

Donate to the Amazon Aid Foundation: