The tent flap popped open. Juan grabbed it quickly to keep it from flapping. The slightest sound on this moonless night could give us away. If we’re caught, the consequence could be potentially disastrous.
The three of us, Carlos, a videographer, Juan, a journalist and me, a photographer, were sitting in a three-man tent on the edge of a clearing just half a kilometer from the logger’s camp. The lights in the distance bobbed and swayed like a punch-drunk fighter trying to find his way in the ring.
Inside, our tent was as dark as the outside. Anything could give us away. A small flashlight, opening a can, or a tent flap fluttering gently.
We had been hiding in the open for six hours; we had another three hours to go until sun-up. Then we had thirty minutes to work before the loggers would break from their morning meeting and start up the big machines. If they spotted our tent from as they worked, we could join the ranks of people that didn’t survive a meeting with the logging crews.
We were there to document the rape of the Amazon Rainforest. The devastation was all around us. We needed to get the records; get the story, and see that it was told.
Why Protecting the Amazon Rainforest is Important
For decades, the Amazon rainforest has been recognized as the repository of ecological services for the globe. The rainforest is the only one left in terms of size and diversity. As the forests burn, and global warming gets worse, the impact of deforestation continues to undermine the fragile ecological balance and processes that have been developed over millions of years.
As the rain forest continues to disappear, scientists in the last two decades have thrown light on the critical ties that link the health of the rainforests to the health of the planet.
Amazon Rainforest Devastation Has Many Causes
In 2009, Peruvian President Alan Garcia pushed through Law 840, also known as “Ley de la Selva,” or, the Law of the Jungle. The laws allows for the sale of uncultivated Amazon land understate ownerships to private companies. There is no term limit on the property rights with the land purchase either.
The law was promoted as a “reforestation” measure. However, the law has encouraged increased deforestation of the Amazonas the nation’s rights have been given away to foreign investors. The law has seen widespread resistance and was ultimately repealed by Peru’s legislature.
The Amazon rainforest covers 1.2 billion acres, and approximately 200,000 are burned each day at a rate of roughly one acre per second.
Logging hardwoods such as teak and mahogany, as well as other timber for furniture and plywood, are devastating the rainforest. Additionally, the paper industry requires an enormous amount of pulpwood trees, and more and more of the rainforest is burned down to be replanted with pulpwood trees.
Ranchers continually need more pasture for their livestock. It’s estimated that to raise just one steer consumes two acres of rainforest.
Less than 10% of rainforest is suitable for conventional agriculture. The soil quickly gets exhausted due to the weak gradients and a lack of sustainable cultivation methods. Because of this, farmers continually move deeper into the rainforest searching for new, fresh land.
Dams impact the local wildlife, migratory fish population, and the Amazon Pink river dolphin as well as threaten the environment in general.
The Brazilian Gold Rush began in the 1980s when gold was found in Sierra Pelada. Over 250,000 miners lived in worked in terrible conditions. To support mining operations, tons of mercury has been released into the environment resulting in irreparable harm to rivers, vegetation, and animals.
Trees play a crucial role in reducing pollutants. Over the last 150 years, humans have been dumping large amounts of CO2 into the air by burning fossil fuels, oil, and natural gas. These have proven to be a major force in climate change.
Under normal conditions, plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere and use it for photosynthesis, a process which produces oxygen and carbon. Without the rainforests, the greenhouse effect would be even more pronounced, and climate change could get worse — faster.
What forests take from the air, the also give back. When forests burn, tree carbon matter is released in the form of CO2. Where rainforests are disappearing, pastures for cattle-ranching are showing up. Pastures overflow with termites and cattle, whose metabolic activities also release CO2.
With the forests gone, CO2 can’t be transformed through photosynthesis and the crops that replace forests only absorb a fraction compared to rainforests.
There’s a good reason the Amazon rainforest has been referred to as the “Lungs of the Planet.” The rainforest produces over twenty-percent of the world’s oxygen.
Amazon wildlife is the natural root of medicine. For millennia, humans and used insects, plants and other organisms in the rainforest for different uses including agriculture, clothing and cures for diseases.
Groups such as the Yanomano and other groups of mixed ancestry have used the chemical compounds found in plants and animals to ward off — and even cure — diseases.
Scientists believe that less than half of one-percent of flowering species have been studied for their medicinal potential. As the rainforest continues to shrink in size, so does the richness of wildlife found in its forests. Also disappearing is the potential use of plants and animals that remain undiscovered.
Of the known plants with anti-cancer properties, 70% originate in the rainforest. Amazon inhabitants use rainforest plants regularly, but 90% of the ones they use have not been studied yet.
Rain Forest Facts
The variety of plant species is the highest on the globe. One study in 2001 found that 62 acres of rainforest supports over 1,100 species of trees. A similar, earlier, study found 247 acres of the rainforest contacts roughly 90,790 tons of living plants and the average plant biomass is estimated to be at 357 tons per hectare.
Deforestation is the change of wooded zones to non-forested areas. Human settlement and development of the land are the main sources of deforestation in the Amazon. Before the early 1960s, access to the interior was restricted, and the forest stayed relatively intact.
Farms, established in the 1960s were built around crop cultivation and the slash and burn method of clearing was used. The colonists couldn’t manage their fields and the crops because of the lack of soil fertility and invasive weeds. As the topsoil in the Amazon are productive for a brief length of time, farmers were always moving to new areas and clearing even more land. The poor farming practices led to deforestation and abusive, extensive damage. Today, deforestation is considerable and areas cleared of forests can be seen with the naked eye from outer space.
Between 1991 and 2000, the Amazon lost 227,000 square miles of forest. Much of the lost forest became pasture land for cattle. Research conducted by Leydimere Oliveira shows that the more rainforest is logged in the Amazon; the less rainfall reaches the area. Less precipitation means lower farm yields. Despite the widespread misperception, there has been no economic advantage for Brazil from logging the rainforest and converting the deforested areas into pastoral fields.
Future climate change caused by greenhouse gas could make the amazon rainforest unsustainable if the reduced rainfall continues. Combined with increased temperatures, a complete loss of rainforest cover will happen by 2100.
There is an economic as well as environmental incentive to protect the rainforest. One hectare in the Amazon has been calculated to have a value of $6820 if whole forest is gathered for fruits, latex, and timber. That value drops to $1000 if clear-cut, commercial timber is harvested and falls to a low of $148 if used as pasture for cattle.
There are some simple and easy steps to help preserve the Amazon rainforest:
1. Buy only sustainable, and environmentally friendly, products
2. Buy local
3. Keep homes and cars as carbon neutral as possible
4. Don’t waste energy
5. Work to create a market and demand for sustainable rainforest products
6. Exercise your rights as a citizen. A simple “No!” to politicians will help
Maybe you have some ideas too! Please share them in the comments area below.