The Deforestation Disaster

An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest, and a small-scale example of the destruction that's been caused. Photo courtesy of Borgen Magazine

Deforestation,the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses, has swept the world in recent times. An estimated 18 million acres of forest, roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Throughout the world, mass-developers tear down grand, rolling forests thousands of trees strong, and dense, thick jungle bursting with wildlife and color every year, every minute for that matter.

In the continental United States alone, 90% of the country’s indigenous forests have been removed since 1600. Prior to the colonization and population booms spreading society across the continent, the US was covered in forests, tree-cover taking up almost half of the landmass. Jump forward about 400 years, and those original 423 million hectares of trees have now been reduced to about 300 million hectares, as of 2000. Once home to some of the world’s great forests, now lost at the hands of human conversion. Of the world’s remaining great forests, the last wooden metropolises lie in Canada, Russia, and the Northwestern Amazon.

The Amazon Basin presents major challenges that conservationists, environmental groups, and the average activist alike face have had thrust upon them by eager developers and farmers, often illegally clearing forest to make way for crops such as industrial-scale soybean farming, profit from the timber trade, and cattle ranchers looking for fresh grazing pastures. What all these individuals share is the need for relatively easy access to the vast “goldmine” of timber and land. To access the forest, roads are created to find the perfect plots of land to cut trees and make way for development. Over time, more than 105,000 miles of these often illegally-made roads have been created, inviting farmers, businesspeople, squatters, speculators, and dangerous criminals into previously undisturbed territory. Land thievery is so common in Brazil that Brazilians have a name for it: grigalem. Grileiros, the land-thieves, often attempt to create phony land titles in order to bypass Brazil’s agrarian reform agency, “Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária”. Over the past three years, the agency voided more than 62,000 claims that proved to be fraud.   

Intact, the Amazon rainforest produces about half its’ rainfall through the moisture it releases into the atmosphere. It also produces much of the rain south of the Amazon and east of the Andes Mountains. Eliminate the great majority of the Amazon’s trees because of clearing, and the remaining trees will have no other option but to dry out and die, and human-populated regions largely dependent on periodic rain for crops and average life will suffer heavily. The threat of global warming can also become a serious factor in damaging the Amazon, especially when it spurs extreme desiccation, or dryness, raising the probability of wildfires that could have the potential to ravage the rainforest and obliterate miles of trees previously untouched by human intervention and clearing. This extreme tree loss can also increase the effects of global warming, as the mass tree-cover that used to hold and absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide is periodically whittled away.

If humanity isn’t careful, the world’s great forests, including those of the Northwestern Amazon, will be completely destroyed. The threat to nearby communities and the wildlife present in the forested region is unimaginable but can be safely assumed to be disastrous. 350 different ethnic groups and about 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity depend on the Amazon rainforest for survival and the situation is similar in other forested regions around the world.

The world’s governments need to harshly crack down on illegal activity in the world’s great forests, as well as on legal activity that still hurts these gorgeous stretches of land and the organisms in and around them without fail. Without care, these sturdy, beautiful components of Earth’s natural beauty will disappear, and we’ll have no one to thank but us. Our call. What’ll it be?