Deforestation in the Amazon
When a person first thinks of the Amazon, chances are they think of a mysterious forest home to the most majestic creatures. They think of its diverse selection of plants and animals and how its size trumps every rainforest in the world, but hardly anyone considers the impacts the rainforest has on the world, and even less contemplate the consequences if the Amazon were to disappear. Currently, the Amazon is plentiful in terms of nutrients, but if people continue to use it, those resources will soon run out. Deforestation in the Amazon will cause detrimental effects on both the human and the plant and animal worlds. In the northern half of South America, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon, is home to countless species of plants and animals. With just over two million square miles, the rainforest is home to largest variety of plants and animals than any other land habitat on Earth (Costner 29). Every animal class, such as reptiles and birds, are represented in high amount with 3,000 amphibians, 370 types of reptiles, 1,300 birds, and hundreds of mammals.
The animals, combined with 80,000 different plant species give the Amazon its defining diversity. Alongside them, another hundred species are newly discovered each year by researchers and conservationists (“Rainforests”). In summary, the Amazon has a biological diversity that rivals every other biome, and it is that variety that makes it important. However, with so many organisms living in one environment, it can be difficult for an ecosystem to support them, but over millions of years the Amazon has developed a balance. Within that balance, the forest’s natural nutrient cycles, the carbon and water cycles, keep the forest alive and healthy (Coster 16). The carbon cycle consists of passing carbon between different species in order to complete necessary daily activities, such as photosynthesis in plants (“Deforestation” 189). This is an extremely important factor in keeping the jungle healthy because both plants and animals need carbon in order to live. In the water cycle, water is dropped from clouds in the form of rain, and it absorbs into the ground until it eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere (Coster 13). The weather in the Amazon is solely created off of how active its water cycle is, and naturally, with its high humidity and large waterway system, it does not depend on any outside entity to run. Its regulation starts completely local, but it is “key to both local and global circulations of moisture” (Gilman 816). Each factor, whether it is biotic or abiotic, is important in the health of the forest. When talking about humans, the Amazon has been utilized for centuries. In the pre-colonization days, the Amazon rainforest supported around six million indigenous people. They depended on the forest for everything from food sources to their culture (McLeish 28).
How it works
However, in the early 1600s the Portuguese colonized the current country of Brazil, which contains roughly 60% of the entire rainforest (Casey 14). They took over the coastal land and destroyed many of the natives’ ways of life. Their main goal was to grow natural resources to send back to Portugal as a means to support an overgrown population. The Portuguese took over almost all of the coastal forestry on Brazil’s shoreline to make room for coffee, cocoa, and sugar plantations (Casey 13). As deforestation becomes more and more problematic, it is important to know that it has been happening for centuries now. Similar to how the Portuguese destroyed forestry in the 17th century, small scale farming has been a leading cause in Amazonian deforestation. These ranches, or “Chacras,” cut down down almost 13,000 square miles each year in order to make room for crops popular in western countries. These crops, such as bananas, papayas, and corn, deplete the soil of its nutrients quickly (Coster 54). Because of that, the farmers move on to new land after only a few years, and with them incorporating the slash-and-burn technique, land is rendered completely useless (Coster 55). However, if major regrowth is started, the ability to replenish the forest is strong.
Many of these ranches also raise cattle. Beef has a large market in Europe and America, and since 1950, more than 33 million acres of the Amazon have been cleared strictly for cattle ranching (McLeish 12). Hundreds of ranchers raise cattle because it is a safe and easy way to make a large sum of money, and with beef being so popular, it continues to be a major source of labor. Farming and ranching, though small in size, are high in popularity, and therefore, they are a leading cause in deforestation. Wood for thousands of years has been a major necessity for humanity, and because of that, logging has also made deforestation infinitely worse. Logging occurs when companies cut down a substantial amount of trees and export the timber for a hefty price. Amazonian wood is a prized commodity with a multi-billion dollar industry around the world (“Deforestation” 13). In order to stop the rapid loss of trees, countries began to implement laws that forbade people from harvesting and selling Amazonian wood. However, instead of ceasing, the law only further encouraged the companies greed. These corporations never left their operations, but they really only went underground, until now when 80% of all logging is considered illegal (McLeish 14).
Under pressure, Brazil then decided to “hire twelve hundred technicians to police the whole region” (“Deforestation” 16). Because of its sheer size, twelve hundred workers is significantly less than sufficient, and in order to stop the illegal logging, more labor is necessary. Logging is a major issue in the Amazon rainforest, and if it is not dealt properly soon, the situation is likely to only grow further out of control. Unbeknownst to most people, gold mining is the most significant cause of deforestation. Mining mainly occurs in the western part of the Amazon where the Andes mountains meet the moist lowlands. Additionally, this area is also the most populous in terms of biodiversity, but that fact does not stop the millions of prospectors from attacking (“Rainforests”). Mining is also the most dangerous form of deforestation because when prospectors wish to go deeper, they use mercury to extract the rare metals from the earth. They even use enough to say that “for every pound of gold produced, two pounds of mercury enters the environment” (“Deforestation” 16). Mercury is a chemical that is highly toxic to humans and other animals, and if it were to find it way into a water supply, the consequences would be disastrous. It could cause the death of millions of organisms, and potentially, it could poison an area for a long time.
Additionally, the soil in the Amazon does not reach very deep, and many times, miners will dig too far, causing the shaft to collapse. After the collapse, it is also very difficult to support new organisms because the loose soil, combined with the endless amounts of rain, create the ideal situation for landslides (McLeish 41). While prospecting in the Amazon could make a person wealthy, it is also extremely dangerous and harmful to the life in the surrounding region. In current times, climate change is a highly discussed topic, and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has an outstanding impact. The rainforest is known as a natural carbon sink or a carbon trap, which means that it absorbs more carbon into its being than it releases back into the atmosphere. Specifically, just about 600 metrics tons of carbon can be taken in by only two acres of land, which when carbon emissions are extraordinarily high, keeping the forest to its natural state is a must (McLeish 24). However, the more trees that are cut down, the less carbon they can absorb, effectively speeding up global warming. Furthermore, the ground naturally soaks up the heat from the sun, so when coverage is eliminated, especially at such a large scale, the Earth warms at a much quicker pace (“Deforestation” 189). Farmers and ranchers who burn the land release all of the carbon that has been absorbed by ecosystem. It is released in the forms of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are natural irritants in the atmosphere. These clog up the atmosphere, and they keep the heat from the Sun from leaving (McLeish 19). While climate change is already a major problem, deforestation in the Amazon is making the situation worse.
While climate change is the most significant impact of deforestation, it also affects the millions of organisms that live in the jungle. Every organism in the rainforest depends on everything else in order to survive. There is a balance, and when that balance is disrupted, such as the removal of a bertholletia tree, possibly every organism in the area around plant will be affected (“Deforestation” 190). For example, as bertholletia trees are cut down, the brazil nuts that they produce become scarce. This effectively causes a decline in the populations of capuchin and spider monkeys, which their absence causes another, until it is one big chain reaction (“Rainforests”). Each of these organisms also has its unique properties that make it valuable to the world. In the past, scientists have used Amazonian plants and animals for medicinal purposes, and currently, plants are being used to develop vaccinations and cures for diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Alzheimer’s, and numerous cancers (McLeish 19). Every biotic factor has a point in its ecosystem, and when one is taken away, it can start a chain reaction that will cause the loss of incredibly important living things. Deforestation also leads to damaging natural disasters that can destroy the land instantly. Farmers commonly leach the soil by growing an excess of one crop, and after a couple years, there is typically nothing to keep the soil in place. Over time, that soil will erode causing mudslides and desertification, a process in which once nutritious land becomes arid (Mcleish 41). Eventually, the Amazon could lose its classification as a rainforest.
Many scientists are predicting that further damage to the forest will “cause regional climate changes that could lead to the transformation of much of Amazonia to savanna” (Gilman 816). Savanna is a dry grassland, and most of the time, it is a stepping stone between forestry and desert. From there, it is almost impossible to go back. Nevertheless, people are also on the way to replenish the forest. Volunteers come from all over the world in order to help replant the forest before it becomes too late, but since desertification is such a final stage, remediation is hard to achieve (Durbin 490). As deforestation continues, natural disasters, whether they take an hour or a century, will become more common as well as dangerous. Humans are the main cause of deforestation, and many of them do not believe that it impacts other people. However, to the native people living in the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is the worst case scenario. They depend on the forest for their way of life, and when others destroy it, they lose their shelter as well as a part of their culture (“Deforestation” 13). Many times, natives will fight the aggressors in order to keep what was rightfully theirs. One example takes place in Brazil, where a group of cattle ranchers attacked a group of indigenous people living there. A well loved American nun, Dorothy Stang, tried to protect the native people, but she and a few others were viciously murdered.
As the investigation took place, it was found that a rich ranch owner had ordered their deaths, so he could freely build on the property (McLeish 30). From this, it is clear to say that the native people are in serious danger when it comes to deforestation. If they stand by and watch as foreign people take, they are losing their lifestyle, but if they try and protect their home, they are facing a battle that they will most likely lose. It is safe to say that deforestation is a major problem, especially since its impact lies on a global scale. If all the farmers, loggers, and miners keep taking from the forest, and no one helps to replenish, the Amazon will not be able to regulate itself. Internationally, if the Amazon goes, then global warming is likely to become an unstoppable force, changing the world for the worse. However, if replanting does occur, the possibility to return the rainforest to its former glory is strong.