There’s a reason the Amazon rainforest was the place that inspired scientists to coin the term biodiversity. The region is home to 10 percent of all plant and animal species known on Earth. But since the 1970s, we’ve lost an area of forest the size of California.
© Greenpeace / John Novis
Between 2007 and 2008, the Brazilian Amazon lost almost 3 million acres of rainforest to illegal logging, soy plantations, cattle ranching and other human activities. Most of the remaining forest is under threat, and with it so are the plants, animals and people who depend on the forest.
Why Save the Amazon?
No matter how far from the region you live, the Amazon rainforest plays an important role in all of our lives every day by regulating the world’s climate, providing plants for medicine and other commodities, and providing a home for thousands of people and some of the world’s rarest wildlife.
Here’s why we are all connected to the Amazon.
The Amazon is on the frontline of the fight against global warming.
Currently, the Amazon is a carbon sink, meaning it stores carbon dioxide and prevents it from entering the atmosphere and fueling the greenhouse effect. Deforestation, on the other hand, releases that carbon into the air, making global warming worse.
Because of this, deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Losing the Amazon means more carbon emissions and a warmer world.
Modern and Traditional Medicine
The rare and unique plant life of the Amazon supplies the cure for countless common ailments.
Globally, 25 percent of pharmaceuticals come from plants. Amazon plants have given us treatments for headaches, fever, high blood pressure, muscle pain and more. And those are just the medicinal uses we already know about.
Not only do we depend on these rare plants for our medicine, the roughly 400 indigenous groups living in the Amazon depend on them for survival. As the Amazon disappears, so does the way of life for thousands of people.
Threats to the Amazon
Threats to the Amazon are threats to all of us. Around the world, it’s human activities that are driving deforestation, and the Amazon is no different.
Illegal logging is one of the first steps in a vicious cycle of forest destruction. It begins when farmers in the Amazon remove the most valuable timber from areas they’ve illegally occupied. Then, more land grabbers build will build roads into the pristine rainforest, opening the door for further exploitation and forest loss.
Between 60 and 80 percent of all logging in the Brazilian Amazon is estimated to be illegal. Of the timber that is cut, as much as 70 percent is wasted at mills.
The US is the largest importer of Brazilian timber, and US companies have a huge responsibility in squashing illegal logging.
Read more about the global implications of illegal logging in The Amazon’s Silent Crisis, which follows five cases of timber laundering from the Amazon to the US, European and Israeli companies responsible.
Agriculture, Cattle and Soy
Brazil is now the world’s largest beef exporter. Clearing rainforest for this multi-billion dollar industry is now responsible for 80 percent of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon.
Between 2004 and 2005, around 1.2 million hectares of soya was planted in the Brazilian Amazon. Most of the forest cleared for soya crops was cleared illegally, but the demand for soya continues to drive deforestation.
Learn more about how soya is driving Amazon deforestation in the 2006 Eating Up the Amazon report.
As if current trends weren’t enough, Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby is fighting make forest destruction easier. Big companies are pushing for changes to Brazil’s conservation laws that would allow landowners to clear larger areas of land, while pardoning those who already cleared their land illegally.
Pig iron is a driver of Amazon deforestation that rarely gets any attention.
Charcoal producers are illegally burning wood and vegetation from the nearby rainforest to supply coal to iron-working companies in Brazil, and, according to Bloomberg News, they are using workers in slave-like conditions to do it.
Solutions to Amazon Deforestation
The reasons to stop deforestation in the Amazon are clear and the time to act is now. Here’s how we’re standing up to protect the Amazon.
Stopping Illegal Logging
We’re putting the pressure on governments and corporations to take a closer look at the legal, ecological and social sustainability of all timber operations and wood products.
Governments need to create and enforce laws that force companies to examine their supply chains and reduce the demand for illegally sourced forest products. In the U.S., the Lacey Amendment gives the government authority to prosecute importers of illegally sourced wood.
Funding Forest Conservation
Forests for Climate is a landmark proposal for an international funding mechanism to protect tropical forests.
Under this initiative, developing countries with tropical forests can make commitments to protecting their forests in exchange for the opportunity to receive funding for capacity-building efforts and national-level reductions in deforestation emissions. This provides a strong incentive for developing countries to continually improve their forest protection programs.