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The country chosen for my project was Venezuela. It is located north of the equator on the continent of South America. The capital of Venezuela is in Caracas. Venezuela’s land mass covers 882,050 sq. kilometers. In acres, the land mass total converts to 217,959,302 acres, which translates to roughly 88,205,000 hectares when converted. When water bodies such as rivers are included the total area in sq. kilometers is 912,050. In acres that converts to roughly 225,374,199 acres, which converts to an estimated 91,205,702 hectares. Venezuela is surrounded by its bordering nations Columbia, Brazil, and Guyana. Although the Atlantic Ocean is the only ocean the country of Venezuela itself is in contact with, the Pacific Ocean is not located very far away. Furthermore, the Caribbean Sea is also near Venezuela and is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Overall Venezuela is slightly larger than Texas in comparison, which is around 678,052 sq. kilometers.
The population of Venezuela is 31,568,179, roughly 32 million. The total fertility rate is relatively low, Venezuela boasts a 2.38 total fertility rate. Despite this low fertility rate the population of Venezuela is still growing rapidly, rapid growth provides some issues when discussing environmental sustainability. In short, a stabilized population tends to the best when considering the most sustainable environmental practices. The average life expectancy in Venezuela is 74.54 years old as of 2016, comparable to the United States’ 78.69 years old for the same year. The 2017 estimated death rate for Venezuela was 5.3 deaths for every 1000 citizens, a relatively low death rate. The literacy in Venezuela is 97.04% for men and 97.21% for women. Education is widely available for Venezuelan citizens. The average annual income per capita in 2014 was $16745.02 in USD. Venezuela is currently ranked at 84th in a list of 180 countries’ GDP per capita current prices at $6,683.96 in USD (knoema.com).
Two of the major biomes in Venezuela are dry forests and tropical rainforests, forests cover about 50% of Venezuela. Dry forests consist of mainly deciduous trees that shed their leaves during the dry season (businessdictionary.com). Tropical rainforests are dense, evergreen forests, that grow where heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures are prevalent. Tropical rainforests contain almost 50% of the earth’s animal and plant species (businessdictionary.com). The Venezuelan Stubfoot Toad, Atelopus Tamaense—critically endangered—and Venezuelan Leaf-toed Gecko, Phyllodactylus Rutteni—near threatened—are amongst various native species that rely on these biomes for their basic living needs. Being a warmer and wetter climate in the Rainforest, it is safe to assume that weather influences—at the very least—the tropical rainforest biome. However, Venezuela is a dictatorship and getting documentation on the country was often a grueling process. Deforestation is a major threat to both of these biomes in Venezuela. Venezuela is running in dictator fashion by President Maduro, there seem to be no major systems of checks and balances for him. President Maduro is able to deforest and industrialize as he deems fit. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Program is essentially restricted to cooperation programs with the Venezuelan Government.
The population of Venezuela is relatively small. For a country with a land mass larger than Texas, a population of 32 million seems rather insignificant when considering the impact on the environment. However, the alarming rate at which Venezuela is deforesting its forests and the estimated 9-28% added to their national carbon emissions due to this deforestation makes a significant impact on the environment (MDPI Publishing). Adding about a quarter of all carbon to the environment has serious implications. Carbon is one of the main causes of Climate Change, add to that the human factor, and carbon in the air has increased beyond the carrying capacity of natural balance. The general consensus of Climate Change is that increased carbon is creating an imbalance, leading to an overall global warming trend.
Nearly 3% of Venezuelan’s citizens are considered indigenous. Indigenous are facing various conflicts in Venezuela. Similar to Native Americans one of the most highly debated issues are the land rights for the indigenous people of Venezuela. Another area of concern is the illegal mining that is leeching mercury into the waterways and changing the rivers’ ecosystems in Venezuela. The infant mortality for the indigenous communities is ten times greater than the infant mortality rate for the nation. There has also been a spread of HIV/AIDS throughout their communities as well (www.iwgia.org).
The rapid growth population diagram from 2016—see above—also creates some issues. If the world is to achieve environmental sustainability for the most species and the longest time, the human population cannot continue to grow as rapidly as it has in the past. With the high literacy rates for men and women and the low total fertility rate, there is a hope that Venezuela will achieve stabilization of their population. The main issue of a rapidly growing population is the carrying capacity of the earth, and how much longer it can provide the resources a larger human population would require for life.
Major concerns about the biodiversity—plants and animals—in Venezuela include deforestation, river pollution, carbon emissions from deforestation, industrial pollution, and many other topics. Deforestation is one of the major environmental issues presently. The organization REDD was specifically created to address this issue. Various authors wrote an article titled “Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in a Forest Reserve in Venezuela between 1990 and 2015.” In this article and through the extensive research methods provided in their article, the team of authors was able to estimate that Venezuelan deforestation added between nine and twenty-eight percent to their national carbon emissions. Deforestation also creates habitat loss of the species living in these forests. The forests are being clear-cut at alarming rates in Venezuela; between 2010 and 2015 Venezuela was losing 3.2% of their forests annually to deforestation, down from the previous 4.9% prior (MDPI Publishing). Thousands of acres of trees are being completely cut down forcing the species that were living there to move to new locations.
River pollution due to industrial activity, illegal mining mostly, is also a dominating environmental concern in Venezuela. Mercury is being leaked into the waterways of Venezuela and being absorbed through the food web. Tolerant species at the lower trophic levels are beginning to absorb the mercury into their tissues, this concept is known as bioaccumulation. As organisms at higher trophic levels begin eating the lower trophic level species, the concept of biomagnification occurs. The toxic mercury begins to affect the organisms and species at higher trophic levels that are not as tolerant. There are side effects to mercury but one of the most significant is the neurological system damage that can occur.
There is a list containing 331 Venezuelan species that are endangered (earthsendangered.com). The primary reasons for species loss of habitat in Venezuela are deforestation, industrialization, and urbanization. Deforestation has been a concern with Venezuela for over a decade. Furthermore, as mentioned before there is no system of checks and balances for President Maduro. He can deforest and industrialize Venezuela as he determines necessary.
17.9 million hectares or 44,231,863 acres, roughly 20% of Venezuela’s land is considered IUCN-I-IV protected area. There are no programs that could be found protecting the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Venezuela. Although there is a scholarly article published by BioOne Complete in which authors Eglee L. Zent and Beryl B. Simpson stress the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, for at least in one Venezuelan tribe (BioOne Complete). According to Carole Simm of the Leaf Group ecotourism is a major contributor to Venezuelan economy, therefore it is reasonable to believe it is a viable industry in Venezuela (traveltips.usatoday.com).
Protection & Preservation of Habitats:
Venezuela did participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement, waiting until the day of the meeting to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (unfccc.int). In their INDC, Venezuela pledged to reduce 20% of their emissions by 2030, again under the dictatorship it hard to prove the validity of their contribution to this agreement (Venezuelaanalysis.com). Venezuela is a Federal Republic government with the Socialist party currently in power. Venezuela has a deeply corrupted government system with the suggestion that Maduro has altered, or extorted presidential elections in his favor. Since Maduro’s rise to power, there are not any environmental agencies in place in Venezuela. There is evidence that the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources did exist prior to Maduro’s presidency (web.archive.org). The government has been run by Maduro since Venezuela’s election of 2013. Although deforestation remains a highly debated issue, there is not much internal conflict on environmental issues. However, there is much conflict about Maduro’s erasing of politically opposing parties and his postponements of critical presidential elections (Aljazeera.com).
Two organizations in Venezuela that are working to improve environmental related issues are BioParques and the UNDP, United Nations Development Program. BioParques was created to motivate the citizens of Venezuela to support conservation of their natural lands in order to reach environmental sustainability (http://www.bioparques.org/http://www.charity-charities.org/Venezuela-charities/Caracas-1574245.html). Although there is a record of BioParques existence, since Maduro gained power they have been restricted or silenced. The UNDP is headquartered in Venezuela currently. Their success is continuing, despite their main focus is to work on cooperative regulations with the Venezuelan Government. Another focus of the UNDP is the oversight of Millennium Development Goals. (http://www.ve.undp.org//http://www.charity-charities.org/Venezuela-charities/Caracas-1538251.html). The Millennium Development Goals are 8 established goals for the world, one of which includes environmental sustainability. Other goals are listed such as eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating disease, and global partnership for development. In 2013 it was announced that Venezuela, amongst other countries, had reached their established goal of eradicating poverty and hunger (www.civicus.org).
As has been the repeated rhetoric throughout this project, there is not much good since Maduro has become president. 11.4% of Venezuela children are malnourished. The unemployment rate is currently 10.5%. Furthermore, Venezuela’s inflation rate was 2700% as of 2017. Maduro’s solution to these crises, selling off Venezuela’s natural resources. This solution has led to the deforestation and illegal mining that created the environmental health concerns discussed previously, such as habitat loss from deforestation and the mercury in the water from illegal mining (news.mongabay.com). Venezuelan history and the environmental programs that were once in place provide hope for the future of Venezuela. If Venezuela can overturn Maduro’s dictatorship, it may once again have these programs preserving the beautiful natural biomes of Venezuela.
I had no previous experience with the country of Venezuela. I assumed the country was impoverished and uneducated, which I believe is caused by depictions of the Amazon Rainforest and most countries outside the United States by the various media outlets—movies, television, news, etc. I was interested in the country because of the number of forest biomes in it, nearly 50% is still covered by forest in Venezuela.
After my research, I think Venezuela is in a complicated situation. There is no political stability and the government is destined to collapse if it continues as is. My heart goes out to the citizens of Venezuela who have limited protections from the consequences of Maduro’s actions. The long-term effects of what is being done during Maduro’s reign of terror may be irreversible for the country. Furthermore, if too much carbon is continuously added to the environment human sustainability on earth becomes concerning.
Through my research, I learned that Venezuela was a beautiful country on the brink of flourishing while still maintaining the protection of their natural ecosystems. The country is currently in a state of disarray, due to the dictatorship of Nicholas Maduro. He has eliminated political opposition, opened Venezuela to deforestation and illegal mining to save an economic crisis, adding alarming rates of carbon not only to their national output but the global output.
The lingering questions I have about Venezuela are numerous, to thoroughly examine these questions would take more research than allotted for my project. My major question is the validity of Maduro’s reporting to the council involved with the Paris Agreement. Is President Maduro using force to forge the required reports and adding more carbon that has not been discovered? Another question is the quality of education, how much does he involve himself in the education of the citizens and does he change the curriculum in any manner? The last largest question I have is related to Venezuela’s future. If Maduro is removed of power, will a dictatorship continue or would the citizens move to reverse the effects of his rule over the country?
One of the most serious global implications from my research is the carbon emissions due to deforestation. 9-28% percent of a national average for a country larger than the state of Texas may cause dangerous consequences affecting Climate Change. If the earth is beginning to push the limits of its carry capacity for carbon dioxide, elimination of these industries would need to occur sooner than later. Another serious implication comes from the illegal mining industries Venezuela. Mercury has been leaked into Venezuelan waterways. Those waterways may eventually leech toxic amounts of mercury into the ocean. Leading to a much larger area at risk of bioaccumulation. If species in the ocean begin bioaccumulating mercury and animals at higher trophic levels begin to eat those toxic organisms, biomagnification is on a larger scale. Species migration is another factor that should be considered when measuring how much area of toxic species is potentially covered.
Venezuela is not only dangerous to its inhabitants in its current state but the world around it. Maduro’s presidency may have consequences lasting long beyond his presidency. Environmental health must be protected, including the environmental health of the natural biomes around. In order to do so, the government must have orders and protections in place with organizations to balance the amount of power. The environmental programs of Venezuelan past must be reinstated, and the natural land of Venezuela must be protected. In order to ensure environmental sustainability not only for the species of Venezuela but for the species of the world as well.
- Aguado, Inmaculada, et al. “Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in a Forest Reserve in Venezuela between 1990 and 2015. MDPI Publishing August 1, 2017. eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.solano.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=d39edac9-adb3-4be4-aef0-b0811b299685%40sdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLGNwaWQsdWlkJmN1c3RpZD1zNDMwMjQ1MyZzaXRlPWVkcy1saXZl#AN=124849178&db=eih.
- Animals in Venezuela, A-Z Animals, a-z-animals.com/animals/location/south-america/venezuela/.
- Clarke, Melissa. Global Environmental Law- Venezuela. www.globalenvironmentallaw.org/Site/Venezuela.html.
- Earth’s Endangered Creatures of Venezuela, EEC, earthsendangered.com/search-regions3.asp?search=1&sgroup=allgroups&ID=388.
- El PNUD en Venzuela, UNDP, www.ve.undp.org/.
- Environment Venezuela Charities, Charity Vault, www.charity-charities.org/Environmental/Venezuela_3.html.
- Forest Governance – Venezuela, Global Forest Atlas, 2009, globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon-forest/regional-governance/forest-governance-venezuela.
- “Indigenous peoples in Venezuela.” IWGIA, www.iwgia.org/en/venezuela.
- Rojas, Rachael B. “Venezuela Pledges to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 20% at Paris COP21.” Venezuelaanalysis.com, Venezuela Analysis, 16 Dec. 2015, venezuelanalysis.com/news/11774.
- Scherer, Glenn. “Venezuela: can a failing state protect its environment and its people?” Mongabay Series: Amazon Infastructure, Mongabay, 1 Feb. 2018, news.mongabay.com/2018/02/venezuela-can-a-failing-state-protect-its-environment-and-its-people/.
- Simm, Carole. “Venezuela Ecotourism.” USA Today Travel Tips, USA Today, traveltips.usatoday.com/venezuela-ecotourism-35894.html.
- Simpson, Beryl B., and Eglee L. Zent. “The Importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Palm-weevil Cultivation in the Venezuelan Amazon.” BioOne Complete, Journal of Ethnobiology, Society of Ethnobiology, May 2009, www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2993/0278-0771-29.1.113.
- “Venezuela achieved key Millennium Developmental Goals.” Civicus, SiBCI, www.civicus.org/index.php/board-members/1911-anne-firth-murray.
- “Venezuela’s crisis explained from the beginning.” Aljazeera News, Aljazeera, 23 Mar. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/venezuela-happening-170412114045595.html.
- Venezuela Population (Live), Worldometers, 2018, www.worldometers.info/world-population/venezuela-population/.
- “Venezuela Submits its Climate Action Plan Ahead of 2015 Paris Agreement.” UNFCCC Sites and Platforms, United Nations Climate Change, 10 Dec. 2015, unfccc.int/news/venezuela-submits-its-climate-action-plan-ahead-of-2015-paris-agreement.
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