The battle for the Amazon rainforest is a daunting task. Its a long going battle between miners, loggers, and developers against the indigenous people who call it home. Its a battle like any battle in a war; it affects lives, families, the economy, politics, and the environment amongst other things. The main topic of this debate is the effects of the Amazon deforestation on the people who live in it, this will be the focus of this research paper. In this paper, I will discuss the history, causes, effects and solutions for the Amazon rainforest deforestation.
Needless to say, the environmental problems of today started a long time ago, before automobiles, electricity, and the Industrial Revolution. From ancient times to present day, humans have changed the world in which they live. As population increase and technology advances, more significant and widespread problems arise. The Amazon rainforest has not been spared from this. The Amazon region has long been seen as a land of great riches. Early Europeans and others have long been fascinated by the Amazon, with early visions of a land of gold, the legend of El Dorado (Faminow 32).
The European invasion bought with it the increased population and new technologies that had a drastic effect to the Amazonian region, which was once considered safe from exploitation. This problem has continued to the present, with higher consequences. Ehrlich explains, today, unprecedented demands on the environment from a rapidly expanding human population and from advancing technology are causing a continuing and accelerated decline in the quality of the environment and its ability to sustain life (98). As a result, the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate, affecting all those that live in the region.
To understand the scope of the changes taking place, Howard Facklam has come up with some staggering statistics, he says, it was estimated at one point in the 1980s that the Amazon basin was being cleared at the rate of 50 acres a minute; another estimate put the rate at 78,000 square miles per hear (53). These are astronomical numbers when you come to think of it, to put it into perspective, thats roughly the size of the state of Idaho. Such deforestation has an alarming affect, it means the loss of a multiplicity of products: Food, fibers, medicine, dyes, gums, and resins (Facklam 53).
Not stated in Facklams statistics are the effects to the wildlife of the areas as they are drive out of their natural habitat. What kind of condition will the Amazon be in if this trend continues? If this rate continues, there might not be anything left of the rainforest by the year 2050. This is why preservation and conservation groups are so militant in trying to stop the terrible loss of the rainforest and all that it provides. In what ways are the rainforests being destroyed in the Amazonian region? The groups that get the most blame are the loggers and miners who exploit the land.
Imaging, if you will, a bulldozer driving down trees with reckless abandon in the lush forest. Not only is the logger tearing down trees, but he is also tearing down an invisible wall that separates the peaceful paradise of the jungle and the modern materialistic world. The purpose of the loggers is not to destroy every tree standing in their path and cash in on it, rather, the loggers are a picky breed. They are selective in the kind of trees they want. They prefer the hardwood trees such as the balsa tree and huaca tree. In the effort to attain these few types of trees, the loggers do more damage than needed.
Amazonian timbering typically extracts one tree per hectare [2. 4 acres], but it does so with enormous damage. As logger move in with roads and skidders, they kill or damage more than 52% of those trees that remain (Hecht 141). So its not so much the logging itself that depletes the forests, but the process of logging. It leaves these forests vulnerable to fires and ruins their chances of spreading seeds and sprouts because they are missing the crucial elements around them and their delicate ecosystem has been altered. Along with the loggers come miners seeking gold and other minerals found in the forest.
Miners come in after the loggers to further strip the land of valuable resources. Mining also carries with it its own ecological problems. For example, while mining, many of the deposits are returned to the river, which normally dont go there, like mercury for example. These rivers have become poisoned and polluted in some parts, killing fish and exposing those that live on and live off the river to diseases which they have no immunity to. Loggers and miners combined have caused many problems, one of which is increased violence. Indigenous people are killed defending their land, and in turn, loggers and miners are killed in retaliation.
Also, the loggers and miners disrupt the serenity of everyday life in the rainforest. Many of the tribes leave their ancestral homes to flee the noise and disruption of the miners (Smith 66). Obviously these loggers and miners must not think of the areas they invade and destroy as a home. Invading the rainforest is no different than bulldozers leveling out a suburb in the Twin Cities. Although the location and settings are different between the rainforest and American suburbs, they do share a very important similarity. That is, in these communities live human beings with minds, families, and feelings.
Loggers and miners deserve the criticism theyre getting, but they are not the main purveyors of the lands. The act that opened up the rainforest to developers was the construction of the Transamazon Highway. In 1970, the government commenced construction of the Transamazon Highway to open Amazonia for exploitation and colonization. The Amazons promise of riches would soon be tested (Stewart 4). And tested they were. Prior to the proposed highway, a majority of Brazils development was concentrated in the northeast by the mouth of the Amazon River, and the south, where the forests werent quite so dense.
Taking what they could from the waterways of the Amazon and the lands that surrounded the river, Brazil was mostly an exporting nation. They provided hardwood, nuts, rubber, coffee, oranges, and cacao to North American and European buyers. Then a shift came where heavy industrialization was targeted, causing Brazil to be considered one of the larges industrial powers in the world. Industries such as cotton mills, textiles, and auto manufacturing sprung up to solidify Brazils growth. All this was not enough to sustain adequate living conditions among the people. The population was growing and food was scarce.
This called the politicians into action, thus proposing the monumental task of constructing a highway into the deepest trenches of the Amazon forest. This action was called the Program for National Integration, or PIN. Stewart goes on to say, [it] called for the construction of 14,000 km of highway throughout the Amazon to be colonized by family farmers (14). The deal looked good in writing, giving land to the lowly family farmer, but as it turns out, there are two points to be made: First, much of the land was already being occupied by indigenous people or Amazonian peasants, so it technically wasnt the governments to give away.
Secondly, in what may have been a precursor to trickle down economics, the land was given to the wealthy landowners who were supposed to then let the family farmers work it, but it always didnt work out that way. Its kind of like how agriculture is in the Midwest now. There are these huge conglomerates that are buying huge amounts of land from struggling farmers. These companies in turn hire the farmers to work the land, or handle the astronomical task of trying to compete with them. It seems the farmers just cant win in America or any for that matter. Only because of the few who hold so much, the rich landowners.
This brings me to the next issue contributing to the destruction to the rainforest, agriculture. I would like to address two areas: Cash crops and cattle ranching. Unlike the upper Midwest and the plains where the land is suitable for raising crops, such is not the case when trying to grow crops from converting rainforests. A common misconception could be that the land that is able to sustain such lush forests should surely be able to handle a couple acres of corn or beans. I would have thought that too had I not read a little bit more into it. In fact, this couldnt be further from the truth.
Raising crops in the Amazon is vastly different than how we do it in North America. Brazilian farmers us a method called slash and burn agriculture. Judith Gradwohl gives a pretty basic definition on the process of slashing and burning. The forest lot is cleared, first by cutting the vines, shrubs, and saplings. Then by cutting the canopy trees with machetes or chainsaws. Vegetation is left to dry and then burned (39). Planting takes place before or shortly after the burn process to take advantage of the rich nutrients left from the fire. Normally after the first crop, the plots nutrients begin to decline.
Apparently corn and other crops are unable to hold onto the nutrients that were so crucial to the forest. This may be because of the humid conditions provided from the rainforest, along with the shade provided by the canopy trees that kept the soil tempered. However, without the shade and the roots to sustain the soil, erosion would wash what little nutrients remained away. This leaves a bare plot thats not very useful for anything anymore. Slash and burn agriculture in essence ruins the very delicate ecosystem that promoted growth in that area. Something as simple as opening up an area to direct sunlight throws the balance out of whack.
Because the soils are left less fertile, the farmers must slash and burn new lands to raise more crops. This is a continuing process thats repeated over and over again, leaving behind it a deadly trail of unprotected land causing more problems that its worth. For example, soil erosion into the rivers. This makes once clear waters muddy and murky from added silt deposits. Figures range on the extent of the damage of slash and burn techniques, but they fall in between 7 million and 20 million hectares each year. Over the course of a decade or more, this results in a major change in landscape and climate for what were once all tropical forests.
Another form of agriculture that has an impact on the Amazon rainforest is cattle ranching. The growth of cattle ranching in the Amazon was a result of the booming population of Brazil. As a way to provide cattle products, such as beef, milk, butter, and cheese, to the growth, more cattle production was needed. Merle Faminow puts it into a little clearer perspective, the urban population growth created large markets in the Amazon for products derived from cattle, markets that could only be served from surplus regions located a long distance away.
The cattle production in the Amazon filled this market (117). What Faminow is saying is that the rising population was in need of added cattle production, and this is done at the expense of the rainforest. Cattle production wasnt just for the purpose of providing products to the urban areas, the rural areas were also dependent on it too. To provide them with products that they couldnt get from the urban areas. Its a symbiotic relationship where one needs the other to survive. As demand goes up, so do the demands for land to raise the livestock.
Much of this land is the open land in which slash and burn agriculture failed. The problem here lies in that the cattle eat up what little vegetation remains on the land, what they dont eat, they trample down with their hard hooves. This halts any regrowth thats possible and contributes to the erosion problem by missing the soils with cattle waste. This creates other diseases indigenous people have no immunity to. Its not just one thing that contributes to the deforestation of the Amazon; its a combination of things.
Slash and burn farming begets cattle grazing, logging begets mining, highways beget land development. Its never one thing, but the combination of many events. How does this venture into the heart of the Amazon affect those who are already there? It has serious consequences. It affects the lives and health of the tribes, which is another great loss due to deforestation. The people of the forest possess amazing knowledge in using the plants, trees, and other resources around them to survive. They use these resources for all aspects of their lives, from healing, clothing, to feeding themselves.
For example, Anne Hornaday got to experience some of the first hand methods used by the tribes when she visited the Amazon. By striking a tree with his machete, my guide was able to predict the weather, when many bird answer, that means rain is coming (28). Their methods may seem primitive to western standards, but their ways have become to be respected by scientists and conservationists. Unfortunately, with each advance by those who bring destruction to the forests and disrupt the peaceful cultures within, these tribes knowledge becomes increasingly threatened. There are several reasons why.
Some tribes are forced from their ancestral homes and assimilated to Brazilian society, or they may die from the new diseases and violence carried in from outsiders, or sadly, as Eugene Linden points out in a 1990 Time article, he basically says that the younger tribe members are ashamed of their culture. That theyve seen the new technologies outside the forest and become embarrassed by their simple life. Linden states, students who leave villages for schooling learn that people, not the spirits of their ancestors, created the machines. Once absorbed, this realization undermines the credibility and authority of elders (Linden 50).
This is the same thing done to the American Indians in the old west, where we would take them from their homes, cut their hair, and pound the bible into them (sometimes literally) as an attempt to assimilate them and destroy their heritage. Who knows what knowledge we would have today had we not alleviated the knowledge of the American Indian? Who knows what knowledge we may lose if we lose the indigenous culture in the Amazon? What can be done to ease the problems in the Amazon? There have been numerous proposals made, too many to list them all, but I want to touch up on a few that I found to be interesting.
There are many levels to ease the situation. At a worldwide level, the population explosionmust be reduced Affluent nations must abandon their ethos of materialism, consumerism, and growth mania and altering peoples lifestyles to be more environmentally conscious (Sponsell 20). These are a few that Leslie Sponsel points out that are steps that can be taken at a global level to ease the demands of the Amazon. Living in a consumerist society such as North American, where advertising and consumption are at all time highs, we have made this society into a throw-away society.
For example, somewhere out there, there are warehouses full of Pokemon toys or Barbie dolls (probably made from rubber from Brazil) that are just waiting to be shipped for the upcoming holiday season. Millions of kids will get these toys and then guess what? Six months down the road, theyll be thrown aside for the next must have item. Its the nature of our society and it affects the world around us, including the Amazon. Another way to curb this destruction is through education. If a conversationalist group would step in and educate the people of the Amazon about whats going on around them, from a global perspective, they might change.
Also, people need to tell them that there is more money to be made by leaving the forest unharmed. Again I refer to the time article, Paradise Lost? , a study showed that an acre in the Peruvian Amazon would be worth $148 is used for cattle pasture, $1,000 if cut for timber, and $6,820 is selectively combed for fruits, rubber, and other resources (Linden 51). People need to see that the land is worth more unmolested than it is when its torn down for quick money. Finally, the government of the countries where rainforests are located and threatened can also play a big part through legislation and programs.
The government needs to regulate the influx of developers, miners, and loggers, and so on, into their forests. They can do this in a way similar to the way the NCAA regulates the recruiting of athletes, by closely restricting recruiting guidelines for any incoming developers. Certainly, any change will not repair the damage that has already been done, only time can do that, and lots of it too. Bit if we go about tapping the resources of the Amazon in a more efficient way, perhaps we can salvage enough of it to continue serving as the lungs to the world.
This paper only touched up on a couple of the many issues concerning the conservation of the Amazon rainforest. The breadth of this subject is quite vast and extremely varied. To put it all into perspective is still a big task. What I did do is bring up some of the main problems in Brazil. Loggers and miners bleeding dry the natural resources of the Amazon. The governments attempt at expansion and internal colonization of the rainforest via the Transamazon Highway. I also looked at agricultures role, from the wasteful effects and consequences of slash and burn techniques, to the futility of raising cattle on unfertile ground.
I touched on the affect deforestation has on the indigenous people and why its important to preserve their culture. And I offered a few of the many proposals to ease deforestation. It used to be that you couldnt read the paper without seeing something about Brazil and the Amazon. Now a person can barely see anything in the papers about it. It doesnt mean that the problem has gone away, its still very much alive. Its just not getting the coverage and attention it has before and thats where the shame lies. People need to know about this, the more the better. Its a valuable resource that mankind cannot afford to lose.