Global rates of deforestation spiked upwards in the past three years, despite numerous public pledges to protect the world’s tropical forests. A recent report from Global Forest Watch found that 2016, 2017, and 2018 (the most recent years for which complete data is available) had the three highest rates of primary forest loss since the turn of the century. This trend is being played out dramatically in the rainforests of the Amazon.
We as humans need trees to survive. The Amazon rainforest, also known as “the lungs of the earth,” produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen that we humans breathe. Trees also work as air conditioners by regulating the the temperature of the earth, by taking water up their roots and releasing it into the atmosphere cooling the surface of the planet. On its own, the average tree in the Amazon can also absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air in just one year. For all the necessities that trees provide us, they need us now more than ever as recent data shows deforestation rates have risen in the past several years.
Although deforestation can occur due to natural causes such as parasite infestation, hurricanes, and floods, human activity is responsible for the majority of deforestation in the Amazon. Sections of the Amazon are being destroyed either by humans chopping them down or human-lit fires, agricultural purposes, cattle ranching, infrastructure, coal mining, and dam construction. As these trees are burned and or chopped down, they release stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere that heats the planet, thus turning one of our best tools for solving climate change into a source of planet-heating gases.
Taking a closer look at deforestation rates, between 1995 and 2012, the rate of deforestation successfully began to decline. Brazil in particular was successful in implementing satellite-based monitoring, which helped curb destruction in hard-to-access areas.
However, after the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the rate of deforestation has reached its highest in 11 years. Despite the negative impacts that deforestation has on the local environment and global climate, short-term financial gain is now prioritized over protecting the rainforest. Under President Jair Bolsoaro administration, environmental laws were weakened or not enforced, making it easier to exploit natural resources. The Brazilian president has stated that “where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it” and that environmental policy is “suffocating the country.” He has also sought to delegitimize environmental organizations engaged in conservation work.
As of November 2019, it was calculated that in the past year alone, the amount of deforestation was equal to 12 times the size of New York City, including Staten Island and the Bronx. In the past decade, the Amazon rainforest’s total forest loss was equivalent to 8.4 million soccer fields. At this rate, if deforestation of the Amazon continues, scientists predict that by 2050 the amount of destruction will double and consume 16 percent of the rainforest. As deforestation rates continue to rise, so will the impacts on the climate.
The struggle to save this forest is not one we can afford to give up, and there is hope. The indigenous communities of the Amazon have long been its best protectors, and some communities are bringing the fight to protect their forests to Brazil’s courts. International groups–from NGOs to trade partners–can also bring their influence to pressure Brazil’s government into action.
By preventing new deforestation, replanting forests, and respecting indigenous rights, the Amazon rainforest can be protected. For all the necessities that trees provide us, we must now provide them with protection in order to save our planet before it’s too late.Share This