Amazon Rainforest Destruction

The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world. 10% of the world’s animal species are found in the South American rainforest and it is home to hundreds of Indigenous tribes, some of which have never been contacted. The rainforest spans 9 countries including Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. However, the majority of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, which is why we must pay so much attention to Brazilian environmental policy.

The rainforest is vital for climate regulation. Carbon dioxide is absorbed and oxygen is exhaled, essentially cleaning the air for us. This process also produces a huge amount of water vapour that can provide important rains for urbanised areas on the Brazilian coast.

The Amazon is also a huge carbon sink and its protection is vital if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the rainforest – an average annual total of 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2.

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Unfortunately, however, the Amazon rainforest is under threat.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost in the last 50 years alone. Compared to what size of the rainforest was around a hundred years ago, what’s left is just a tiny fraction of what used to be. The rainforest has also become a victim of very bad droughts in recent years, creating large areas of dead zones.

For many years since the turn of the century, the Amazon deforestation rate was actually dropping. We seemed to be doing the right thing and protecting one of the most important rainforests in the world. However, since 2014, deforestation has been on the rise once more. And with a newly-elected President who has shown little care for the climate change and rainforest protection things could get a lot worse.

Voting in a Climate Denying President

In October 2018, Brazil elected right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as President of the South American country.

There was never any secret that he doesn’t believe in the role of climate change. He threatened to follow in Trump’s footsteps and pull Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement (although fortunately still hasn’t) and has placed a number of climate science deniers in his cabinet.

During his campaign, Bolsonaro regularly spoke of his desire to tear away protections for the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people that live in the Amazon rainforest. Areas that hadn’t yet received protected status wouldn’t receive it and those that had would face a fight to keep it. In his own words “there won’t be any demarcations of Indigenous land” if it were up to him.

Like many right-wing populist leaders, he’s against the supposed ‘globalist’ agenda. He believes that Brazil doesn’t owe the world anything, and so has the right to do what it pleases with the Amazon rainforest within its territory. He’s only 7-8 months into his Presidency, but Bolsonaro is doing exactly that.

Cattle Ranching and Deforestation

The biggest cause of deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is for pasture land. Of all the deforestation going on in Brazil, 80% of it is due to cattle ranching and the development of pastureland for cattle to graze. On the rural edges of the Amazon rainforest, cattle ranchers want to be able to cut down parts of the rainforest to give themselves more space for their cattle to roam.

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It’s another case of a country putting short term economic gain over long term environmental consequences. Every country in the world is guilty of it – Brazil is no different than the rest of us.

Putting Agribusiness in Charge

Perhaps most worrying was Bolsonaro’s decision to merge the environment and agriculture ministries. This essentially puts agribusiness in charge of what happens to one of the most important ecological areas in the world. All those cattle farmers would face much fewer restrictions on cutting down parts of the rainforest.

Agribusiness is a huge industry to Brazil, so it’s no wonder that they have been pressuring the government to open up areas of the Amazon for pastureland for years. According to Reuters, 23.5% of Brazil’s GDP is generated by agribusiness

It isn’t just the lack of environmental awareness the agribusiness lobby will show with regards to the Amazon and deforestation though. Recent corruption scandals that have blighted Brazilian politics, and arguably been a large reason for the rise of the populist right, have been centred around bribes paid to politicians by the multibillionaire owners of Brazil’s biggest cattle farms. Agribusiness seems to have such a hold on Brazilian politics and with them now in charge of managing the Brazilian environment, the Amazon is under incredible threat.

Amazon Droughts

Climate change is also having a huge impact on the health of the Amazon rainforest. In 2005, the southwest region of the Amazon experienced its worst drought in 100 years. It’s also believed that just a year later there was a second drought, pushing the rainforest closer to a ‘tipping point’ where the damage caused would become critical and that region would likely become savannah or desert.

In 2010 there was an even worse drought than the one in 2005. There were three different epicentres of the drought where vegetation died off, causing long term damage to the ecology of each epicentre. The dying off of vegetation in drought events also increases the risk of forest fires and burning events that can have even more dramatic impacts.

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The Amazon rainforest acts as a carbon sink and draws in a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – around 1.5 gigatonnes every year. However, during these drought events in the Amazon, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere far outweighed the amount that was absorbed. In 2005 it was estimated that 5 gigatonnes of CO2 were released. In 2010, that figure was much higher at around 8 gigatonnes. Climate change has created a vicious circle in the Amazon and it could have devastating impacts on millions around the world.

The Amazon is Critical for our Survival

For our survival as a species, protection of the Amazon is critical. It’s vital for climate regulation, the protection of some of the rarest animal and plant species in the world, and limiting the worst impacts of climate change. Yet it’s being destroyed at a rapid pace that could have dire consequences for our planet. Damaging Brazilian environmental policy will play a huge role in the future of the Amazon, but climate change is also having a major impact and will continue to in the future. So whilst you may live thousands of miles away, living a much more environmentally friendly and low emission lifestyle can have a huge impact on the protection of the Amazon rainforest.

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