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Deforestation Issues in Brazil
In recent years one of the biggest threats the world as a whole faces is the destruction of our environment. The destruction of the Brazilian rainforest is probably the most important issue that should be taken into consideration because it is the cause of other major ecological problems we are facing such as: global warming, the depletion of our ozone layer, and noticeable climate changes around the world. Brazil's deforestation problem has turned into earth's deforestation problem.
Experts say that not too long ago 14 % of the earth was covered with rainforests. Today only 6% remains and everybody focuses their attention on Brazil because 30% of the remaining rainforests are found in that country (Rain-tree). Deforestation is so dangerous because much of the carbon dioxide that all countries produce is turned into oxygen in the rainforest through the process of photosynthesis. Experts say that 20% of the earth's oxygen is produced in the Brazilian rainforest. It is estimated that 90% of all animal and plant species live in the Brazilian rainforest so extinction is another major issue (Rain-tree). The money that deforestation brings to the Brazilian government is a huge motivator since it is a developing country.
There are several ways and reasons for which rainforests are destroyed. The major cause of deforestation is logging. The forest is most valuable for its timber so its preservation would cost a lot of money. Commercial loggers destroy huge parts of the forest to reach the trees they want. Trees are brought down and along with them their vines and lianas, which are connected to other trees. When these come down, along come large canopies of green formed above the ground by these vines and lianas. The removal of the trunks cause extra damage since they are carelessly pulled out of the rainforest, destroying and damaging anything in their path. The large machinery compacts the fragile soil with their large tracts, making it very difficult to regenerate. Noise pollution and the destruction of the zone frighten animals living in the area, making them flee to other parts. Commercial loggers make roads to reach other parts of the forest easier. A road connecting point A to point B will disrupt plant and animal life anywhere near it. The roads are then used continuously and animals are forced elsewhere.
What most hurts the forest about logging is local people without land that build their homes next to these roads, they are called ‘shifted cultivators' (Hect 115).
Shifted cultivators usually result when peasant's land is ‘stolen' by the government because large corporations or companies unjustfully buy the land. These ‘land less' people then build their homes inside the rainforest and plant food in order to survive. The Brazilian government blames these people for 60% of the deforestation (Hect 210). In Brazil over 40% of land that is good for cultivating is owned by only 1% of the population (212).
Another major cause of the deforestation problem is agriculture. When areas of rainforest are destroyed, ranchers or crop growers move in and clear the entire area.
Cattle grazing is very common. Ranchers move in with their livestock and use it to graze until the land is completely barren and stripped of nutrients. After destroying a section, they simply move to a different area and repeat the process. Crops that are grown on rainforest land bring the same consequence; barren, unfertile soil. The problem results when farmer's plant crops on the land and begin using pesticides and machinery on the soil. The pesticides alone cause extreme damage to the rainforest. After cultivating their crops farmers leave the useless land and, like the ranchers, move to a different area.
These are the major causes for the rainforest destruction but there are many more. Mining in the forest is also a contributor because of large machinery that disrupts life in the area, moves native tribes elsewhere and contaminates the air. For example, Brazil built several hydroelectric dams because they feared an energy shortage. Large sections of the rainforest were cleared to build the dams. This caused erosion problems around the area and animals and tribes living close to the dams had to move. The dams caused several water borne diseases that contaminated the area. According to a World Bank report, Brazil had enough energy to supply to its entire people without having to have had built any of the dams (Causes ). Practices like these, which bring in quick money but leave irreparable damage are drastically reducing the rainforests size. An example of this is how the Atlantic coastline of Brazil has been reduced to 1.7 % of its original state because of cattle grazing (Rain-tree). Experts estimate that in one day 137 plant, insect, and animal species become extinct, equating to 50,000 species each year (Rain-tree). 2.5 acres of rainforest can be the home of over 750 different trees, while a single pond in Brazil can hold more fishes than all of the rivers in Europe (Rain-tree). It is hard to imagine but the Brazilian rainforests has about 3,000 different types of fruits, when only 200 of these are used in the Western World (Hect 110).
Rainforests contain half of all animal species living on earth (Rain-tree). Because of human intervention in these rainforests animal species are disappearing about 1000 times faster than they would on their own natural rate. When one species disappears the whole ecosystem is changed and other species that depended upon the first begin to die out until they also become extinct. This chain reaction has wiped out thousands of different species of animals. Most indigenous people living in the rainforest depend on the animals for food and some are believed to be sacred because they are part of their beliefs. When species become getting extinct these people's lives are affected tremendously.
Clear cutting, mining, and dam building are all form of intervention that result in endangered species. The introduction of foreign species into the rainforest further develops the problem since this throws the ecosystem off balance and the different species struggle to fit in, sometimes by killing off others. The poaching of wild animals in the rainforest is another major problem. Furs and exotic birds are very popular among richer countries. Poaching has become more and more common and the extinction rates sore higher each year. Because of economic necessity most poor families living in the rainforest recur to this act by setting traps and capturing animals that are popular on the international market. Animals are sold for very low prices and resold in other countries for much more higher prices. International wildlife trading is a business that makes between 2 - 3 billion dollars a year so one can see why many local Brazilian people are tempted into it (Rain-tree).
Extinction does not only affect animals. Each year thousands of plants in the rainforest become extinct. One fourth of our pharmaceutical medicines in the Western world come from the rainforest. Local people in Brazil use rainforests plants medicinal values greatly. Most indigenous tribes use plants as medicine. Examples of the importance of these plants: Over 70 percent of the plants which are attributed to having anti-cancer properties are found in the rainforest (Hect 139). Unfortunately the Madagascar Periwinkle, a rainforest plant, increased the chances of survival for children with leukemia from 20 percent to 80 percent (Rain-tree). This equates to 8 out of 10 children who are now living thanks to the properties of a single plant found in the rainforest. The Madagascar Periwinkle is now extinct in the wild because of deforestation.
The sale of medicines that are plant-based topped 40 billion dollars in 1996 in the United Sates alone (Rain-tree). Forests are destroyed by the second and very few, only 1 percent, of the plants are tested for medicinal properties. Scientists believe that if a cure for AIDS exists it is probably hiding in some rainforest plant (Rain-tree). Most of the plants that are know to have medicinal properties were discovered by indigenous people who have been using them for years in the rainforest. Another major problem is that shamans, or medicine men, who have hundreds of ingredients to plant properties are very elder and if that person dies without passing his knowledge to younger generations everything he knows is lost.
As if the extinction of plants and animals were not enough, deforestation has been the cause of many indigenous tribes living in the rainforest to be ‘wiped out'. From over 6 million indigenous people inhabiting the rainforest of Brazil in 1500, only 250,000 still exist today (). Mining, ranchers, corporations among others have quickly been killing off tribes in a gruel fight for territory and interest. There are dozens of different tribes living in Brazil. Each with different customs and traditions but they all share certain characteristics. They are all dependent upon the Brazilian rainforest to survive. They kill wild game for food, live in small areas in the forest planting crops for food and live very secluded from ‘civilization' and the rest of the world. Indigenous tribes have taught us that earth and man can live in peace. Not only are they threatened by outsiders interested in the land but by their younger generations who move out to the city and thus, lose the valuable information that the elders want to pass on, especially medicinal values of plants found in the rainforest.
Indigenous people usually lose their land when they are moved because ranchers, miners, or logging companies decide they would like to purchase the territory. The intruders usually begin ‘slashing' and ‘burning' the territory they want and expect any tribe nearby to move to a different location. Many times the military is called in and the tribes are forced out of their land. Their human rights are usually ignored by the government and invasion of territory usually end up in bloody conflicts with the ‘intruders'. These people depend on the rainforest to survive.
The problem, as can be seen, is not only dangerous on a national level but worldwide. Another of these major ecological problems whose main cause is deforestation is global warming. Let us examine how global warning occurs: the sun releases heat which is absorbed into earth's atmosphere. Earth then returns some of that heat in the form of radiation waves, part of the heat is absorbed by gases in the earth such as carbon dioxide and methane. This process keeps the earth warm. Trees absorb the carbon dioxide and through the process of photosynthesis convert it to oxygen. As we keep reducing the size of our rainforests, which are responsible for 20% of the oxygen produced in earth and as we keep releasing more and more ‘greenhouse gases', which are carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide into out atmosphere each year, the ecosystem is thrown off balance. These gases make earths climate warmer each year and so produce global warming (Global Warming).
Global warming could bring catastrophic results to the planet in general. Sea levels would rise, causing an ecosystem unbalance plus the relocation of people living near the coasts. Countless animals and plants that would become extinct because of climate change. Species would have to migrate elsewhere causing unbalance in their lives. Agriculture would be affected tremendously since climate would change throughout the world, causing serious droughts and floods that would cost billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.
Above the earth is a thin layer that helps keep atmospheric gases inside earth and acts as a shield from harmful rays emitted by the sun. The greenhouses gases mentioned above are deteriorating this protective layer, they are burning holes in it which permit the sun's rays to enter our atmosphere easily. The sun rays that are entering the atmosphere are so strong that they act as radiation hitting us everyday. Skin cancer is becoming more and more common in recent years because of the ultraviolet rays that enter through the depleted ozone layer. People suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma are also on the rise, because of the high levels of pollution we are suffering from large cities.
‘Why keep destroying?' you might ask, after reading all the negative effects deforestation might produce. The answer can be given in one word: money.
Brazil is a country that is in a stage of development and deforestation is the main source of revenue. Logging is extremely profitable for companies. The wood is used to make furniture, materials, and other wood products. Charcoal comes from the rainforest as well as paper. The United States, Great Britain, Belgium, and Japan are the biggest ‘customers' (Solutions). Another sad thing about this is that these companies pay extremely low prices per acre and making billions in profits. The government is selling their property for prices incredibly low prices compared to the amount other countries are making off them. On the other hand, if Brazil was not selling the rainforest then it would have very little, if any, source of revenue. Many economists say that the destruction of the rainforest is inevitable and only ‘natural'. Brazil needs more ‘room' for it's people since the population keeps increasing each year according to them. Economists also argue that if Brazil was not selling its rainforest then the country would be sunk in extreme poverty, crime, and they argue that we would still be losing it.
According to Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, everything we are fed by the media about the problem of deforestation is a lie. Bjorn states that pessimist news sells so therefore the media exaggerates the truth greatly. According to him the rainforests are not disappearing as fast as we think and the problem is not ominous. “80 percent of the original forest cover is still in place... then just about 20 percent of all tropical forests have disappeared” (Lomborg 114).
On the issue of global warming Bjorn presents interesting information. According to the author “plants produce oxygen by means of photosynthesis, but when they die and decompose, precisely the same amount of oxygen is consumed” (115). Trees neither produce or consume oxygen according to his hypothesis since it is an equal distribution of give and take. He criticizes disinformation presented by other sources because according to him they have no grounds or bases for their allegations. In his book, he reminds us of when President Carter warned us that we would have very little, if any, rainforest by the year 2000 in his Global 2000 environmental report (113).
Rapid destruction or slow destruction of our planets rainforests the problem is there. There are many things we all can do in order to protect our forests from further deforestation. According to experts the rainforest will yield more profits if it is used for it's fruits, nuts, oil and medicinal plants than if it is destroyed now for short term gains. The labeling of timber to be sold would be a giant help against deforestation. Labels indicating “sound wood” would be sold and customers with a more open and aware conscious would purchase timber that is not endangering any ecosystem. Another huge solution to the problem is paper. If we consumed less paper thousands of acres of rainforest timber would be spared. Through another perspective, Brazils government needs to help fight its overpopulation problem since that is a giant factor with deforestation (Solutions ). The government needs to educate its people and make them aware of the present problem and the magnitude its consequences can bring. Without an educated, aware society no plan or agreement will work.
The fact that Brazils rainforest is disappearing is undeniable. Whether it is going in slow or fast pace does not matter very much. We, as a society need to help protect the rainforests not only because of their beauty but because of the importance in this planets balance with nature. As stated before, the problem does not affect Brazil only, it is a delicate issue whose consequences affect every living thing on this planet. Unless we take action today tomorrow might be too late.