Is It Too Late To Save The Amazon Rainforest
NC State expert Erin Sills explores what the future holds for an ecosystem that faces record deforestation rates.
Though the Amazon rainforest covers less than 2% of the Earths surface, it plays a vital role in stabilizing the global climate, with its more than 390 billion trees storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas thats driving climate change.
Unfortunately, the Amazon is under increasing threat from human activities, particularly deforestation in the nearly 2 million square miles of it located in Brazil. In fact, between August 2020 and July 2021, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit the highest annual level in 15 years at 5,110 square miles, an area 13 times the size of New York City.
The primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon is demand for agricultural land, mostly for cattle ranching and soy production, according to Erin Sills, Edwin F. Conger professor of forest economics and head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State.
Sills, who is also a research associate for the , said farmers and ranchers often cut down and burn trees throughout the rainforest to clear it for crops and livestock.
These operations are essentially feeding the worlds appetite for beef, and to a lesser extent, milk and leather, Sills said.
Brazils agreement to end deforestation doesnt reflect the reality of whats happening on the ground.
‘a Nightmare For Scientists’
The Amazon rainforest covers land in nine countries, but around 60% lies in Brazil.
According to Greenpeace, one-third of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon is linked to so-called land grabbing of public land, mainly driven by meat producers clearing space for cattle ranches.
At the COP26 climate summit in November, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed an international pledge to end deforestation by 2030.
But deforestation has increased in Brazil under Bolsonaro’s rule. He has courted controversy during his presidency for encouraging activities like mining and agriculture in the Amazon and has been criticized for making effortsto pass laws that would allow commercial developments on protected land. The president has also offered financial incentives to indigenous tribes who develop their land in the rainforest into soy plantations, according to Reuters.
In August, Brazil’s lower house of Congress passed a bill that would make it easier for squatters on public land to be granted deeds to that land. It came after a separate bill, passed by the lower house in May, paved the way for mining, agriculture and other projects in the Amazon to be greenlit more easily. Both bills are now set to be considered by Brazil’s Senate for approval.
Luciana Gatti, a climate scientist at INPE, described the levels of deforestation seen in the Amazon as “a nightmare.”
Increase In C02 Emissions
According to one study, 15% of global CO2 emissions are attributed to deforestation.77 However, the Amazons role in the global management of climate and CO2 levels is larger than that deforestation in the Amazon leads not only to carbon emissions during the logging process, but also from fires caused by deforestation. The massive tree loss brought about by deforestation has also led to a decreasing level of CO2 absorption in the Amazon.
Researchers say that the Amazon, which once used to be a massive carbon sink, may only be absorbing half as much carbon dioxide as it did 20 years ago, mostly due to deforestation.78 Furthermore, one study in 2019 found that current prediction models for the Amazons CO2 absorption, and their accompanying assumptions, did not take into consideration the depleted phosphorus levels in the Amazons soil, which impacts a trees ability to take in CO2.79 As a result, the study revealed that these predictions for absorption were inaccurate, as they were double the amount of absorption actually taking place.80 In other words, this data is especially relevant to global climate change as the Amazon absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide absorbed by all rainforests globallya number which decreases with the rise of deforestation.81 Annually, the world as a whole emits 40 billion tons of CO2 into the air, 2 billion tons of which is absorbed by the Amazon rainforest.82
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Impact On Indigenous People
In an interview conducted in the summer of 2020, Célia Xakriabá, a leader of the Xakriabá people, talked about the impacts on indigenous people who have lived in relative harmony with the Amazon for thousands of years. From the first waves of colonization, beginning in the 16th century, up to the current day, indigenous communities have had to assert their rights to remain on their land and live as they choose, without interference from governments and corporations acting at the behest of neoliberal capitalism. Célia spoke about the loss of biodiversity she has witnessed, as well as the loss of connection with the earth that city-dwellers often experience. She spoke about birds singing songs of misery because most of them, they are alone. They have lost their partners And we, the indigenous are becoming more alone, because theyre taking people from us.
Over 40% Of Global Tropical Deforestation Occurs In Brazil
Globally, we lose about 5 million hectares of forest a year due to land clearing for agriculture and livestock farming, logging activities to produce materials like paper, palm oil and soy production, as well as gold mining. The Amazon rainforest covers land across nine countries including Colombia and Peru, but around 60% of it lies within Brazil. Despite efforts to protect forest land, legal deforestation is still rampant, and about a third of global tropical deforestation occurs in Brazils Amazon forest, amounting 1.5 million hectares each year.
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Massive Amounts Of Destruction
Another one of the more interesting Amazon rainforest deforestation facts has to do with the amount of destruction that is occurring on a global scale. On average, we are losing up to one acre of rainforest area each second. This amount equals just about the size of an American football field.
To put those numbers in perspective on a yearly scale, that adds up to about 31.5 million acres of lost rainforest habitat per year. The majority of these losses occur as a direct result of logging and land clearing for agricultural use.
Taking Action Against Threats
To understand and The ultimate goal of MAAP is to distribute important technical information in a timely manner and in an easy to understand format. Our intended audience is policy makers, civil society, the media, and the public at large. We hope that sharing such information with these actors will contribute to changes in policy and practice that minimizes future deforestation and promotes conservation in the Andean Amazon.
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Ways To Protect The Amazon
The importance of the Amazon is clear and these are the ways to keep it protected:
First, illegal logging must be stopped. Governments should do their part in not only creating but enforcing laws that call on companies to reduce their demand for forest products that have been sourced illegally.
Second, forest funding needs to continue. The Forests for Climate initiative is just one of the international funding mechanisms aimed at protecting tropical forests. Under this initiative, developing countries that have tropical forests can receive funding for capacity-building efforts in exchange for commitments to protecting their forests.
The Amazon rainforest is vital to the survival of this planet and we cannot allow it to go to waste. We have already lost a large chunk of the rainforest and cannot afford to lose more.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.
Increased Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Forests are carbon sinks and, therefore, help to mitigate the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Tropical forests alone hold more than 228 to 247 gigatons of carbon, which is more than seven times the amount emitted each year by human activities.
But when forests are cut, burned or otherwise removed they emit carbon instead of absorb carbon. Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gas emissions contribute to rising temperatures, changes in patterns of weather and water, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events. For example, in Sumatra, rainforests on deep peatlands are being cleared, drained and converted to pulp plantations, contributing to Indonesias high greenhouse gas emissions. Changes in climate can affect forest-dwelling creatures by altering their habitats and decreasing availability of food and water. Some will be able to adapt by moving to higher elevations or latitudes, but species losses may occur.
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Why The Amazon Is So Important
South Americas Amazon contains nearly a third of all the tropical rainforests left on Earth. Despite covering only around 1% of the planets surface, the Amazon is home to 10% of all the wildlife species we know about and probably a lot that we dont know yet.
Our research shows that, on average, a ‘new’ species of animal or plant is being discovered in the Amazon every 3 days. However, tragically, because huge parts of the forest are being destroyed so fast, we may never know all the riches it holds.
People around the world, as well as locally, depend on the Amazon. Not just for food, water, wood and medicines, but to help stabilise the climate, playing a critical role in global and regional carbon and water cycles.
The Amazon is under siege like never before. Deforestation and fire are once again on the increase, and protected areas and indigenous lands face increasing threats. It needs our help more than ever. We cannot tackle the climate crisis without the Amazons vital life-sustaining role.
Sarah Hutchison Head of Brazil and Amazon Unit
“We are only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unveiling the incredible species that live in the Amazon and understanding the vital role it plays in helping regulate our climate. Despite some important conservation successes, the Amazon faces greater threats than ever before. We need to act fast to protect this life-sustaining treasure for the millions of species and people that depend on it.”
Is Brazils Amazonian Deforestation Development
The term development implies a change with an effect that increases human well-being. This is not to be confused with growth, which refers to an increase in the throughput of matter and energy in a human society and may or may not benefit well-being . Fortunately, development does not necessarily require growth, which is subject to sever planetary limits . Limiting factors within Amazonia restrain many types of use . To be considered sustainable development, the productive systems must continue to yield their benefits for a very long time, theoretically indefinitely, the Brundtland Commissions caveat regarding nonrenewable resources notwithstanding. Many of the most common land uses, such as extensive cattle pasture, are unsustainable . In the case of cattle pasture, which dominates deforested areas in most of Brazilian Amazonia , the human population supported per unit area of deforestation is minimal: the productivity and financial benefit are small, and there is even less of a local benefit . The question of who benefits is, of course, critical to defining what is development this author has argued that the people living in Amazonia must be benefited in order for undertakings in the region to be considered development .
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Is Amazon Forest Still Burning
Experts say this year is on track to be as bad as 2020, when fires razed more than 19 million acres of the worlds largest tropical forest. Conservation advocates arent counting on help from the government of Brazil, which is home to some 60 percent of the Amazon. Drier forests, naturally, are more likely to burn.
Blue Macaw Is One Of The Many Species Under Threat
The Hyacinth Macaw, also known as the Blue Macaw, is native to the Amazon. But the species natural habitats and resources grow smaller and smaller every day with illegal logging, agricultural land clearing and urban development. Today, it exists only in small areas including central Pará, the epicentre of deforestation, which saw 203,460 hectares deforested in 2019. While the strikingly blue parrot is currently classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , they are at the precipice of becoming endangered.
Likewise, Miltons Titi, an incredibly rare primate that was only first discovered in 2011, and can found only in a small area of lowland rainforest between the Roosevelt and Aripuanã River in the Amazon. As these monkeys cannot swim well or cross mountainous terrain, the live exclusively on treetops and can only remain in this specific area. Due to rising deforestation, the region lost 3,130 hectares of land in 2019, which could prove fatal for the survival of the species.
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Changing Rates Of Deforestation
The amount of deforestation happening around the world has changed over time but it is also changing at different rates in different parts of the world.
Watch this time lapse video which shows the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest:
Study the two graphs below and then answer the questions beneath:
Why Is There Deforestation In The Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest has long been a target of modern-day development. The canopy is ripped apart for timber, the earth scoured for minerals, and the land scorched to make way for ranching.
Around 1.5 million square miles of the Amazon Rainforest lie within Brazils borders, making up a majority of the forest. Over the last decade, protections were put into place which curbed the rate of deforestation in the Amazon. However, things changed in 2018, following the election of Brazils president Jair Bolsonaro. The Bolsonaro administration scrambled to loosen environmental protections, empowering ranchers and loggers to increase the pace of development in the forest, bringing them into direct conflict with indigenous people who live in and around the forest and depend upon it for survival.
As long as governments like Brazil push a pro-development agenda, deforestation in the Amazon will likely continue.
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How Can We Stop Deforestation In The Amazon
Protecting the Amazon Rainforest is an urgent cause requiring action from people around the world. One way to contribute is by supporting indigenous organizations who are working on the ground to defend their rights. Donate or volunteer your time to organizations such as these:
It is also critical for people especially in wealthy countries to understand the connections between Amazon deforestation and dietary choices since much of the deforestation is driven by animal agriculture. By eliminating cows and all other factory-farmed animal products from your diet, you can help reduce demand for pastureland and monocropping in the Amazon. Thanks to plant-based meats and vegan diets becoming more popular in places like the United States, it is easier than ever to reduce your personal role in Amazon deforestation.
Rates Of Tropical Deforestation
Several international groups produce routine estimates of tropical deforestation, most notably the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which has been producing a global forest resources assessment every five to ten years since the late 1940s. The FAO report is based on statistics provided by countries themselves, and because the ability of countries to accurately assess their forest resources varies depending on their financial, technological, and institutional resources, the estimates for some countries are likely more accurate then others. Many countries use satellite imagery as the basis for their assessments, and a few research teams have used satellite data as the basis for worldwide estimates of tropical deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s.
In addition to local factors, international trends drive deforestation. The expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia is a response to high petroleum prices and, ironically, to an increasing global demand for bio-fuels perceived to be green.
All tropical forest sub-regions are represented in a list of the top 20 countries that cleared the most forest between 1990 and 2005. Brazil, the leader, cleared over 42 million hectares, an area the size of California.
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When Will The Amazon Hit A Tipping Point
Seen from a monitoring tower above the treetops near Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, the rainforest canopy stretches to the horizon as an endless sea of green. It looks like a rich and healthy ecosystem, but appearances are deceiving. This rainforest which holds 16,000 separate tree species is slowly drying out.
Over the past century, the average temperature in the forest has risen by 11.5 °C. In some parts, the dry season has expanded during the past 50 years, from four months to almost five. Severe droughts have hit three times since 2005. Thats all driving a shift in vegetation. In 2018, a study reported that trees that do best in moist conditions, such as tropical legumes from the genus Inga, are dying. Those adapted to drier climes, such as the Brazil nut tree are thriving.
In the face of a warming climate, increased deforestation and fiercer fires, scientists are more worried than ever about the Amazon. Some have warned that the forest will soon reach a tipping point that could turn much of it into dry scrubland. But others say they lack the evidence to make specific forecasts about how long the rainforest can remain healthy.
Last September, a few dozen researchers formed a that will report on the state of the rainforest, and suggest what needs to be done to conserve it. They hope to have their assessment ready in time for the United Nations climate negotiations in Glasgow, UK, this November.