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According to a study published by Science magazine, 42% of the Amazon rainforest could have virtually disappeared by 2020. Yet, it is estimated that at least 60% of Amazonia must absolutely remain untouched for the survival of its own climatic and hydrological system. Below that threshold, what will be left of the forest will dry out and die. As a result, some researchers are warning that should no immediate action be taken to save the forest, the point of no return could be reached within ten to twenty years. (*)
excerpt from an article by L. Baltus (french): http://lsjinfo.free/barla/bresil/amazonie.deforestation.pdf
The jungle is currently being deforestated to be replaced by crops at a devastating rhythm in the tropics. Mostly carried out by poor farmers, deforestation is today the main cause of the destruction of the Brazilian forest. Every year, about 52000km² of the virgin forest disappear.
It is often stated that overpopulation is the major reason for the creation of these farms in the Third World's virgin forests; actually, they can be explained by the inequitable distribution of farmlands -a tiny percentage of the population owns most of the farmlands. Not including Amazonia , Brazil has currently about the same population density as the United States. In many cases, poor farmers are bought out or expelled of their land to be pushed further into the forest with promises of land, but no hope of prosperity; this is done with the help of public authorities and international organisations such as the World Bank.
After a few years, once torrential tropical rains have deprived the soil of all its nutritious elements and productivity, the farmers have no choice but to deforest another plot while their land is taken over by breeders.
When these breeders need to expand their lands, they sometimes do not hesitate to resort to violence to force farmers to sell. After the passage of the cattle, all is left is dust. The most productive biological system on the planet has become the poorest.
Exploiting and selling the wood also explains why the rain forest is being deforested. Most of that wood is used for heating or turned into wood coal because it reaps more profits in a virgin forest than in a secondary one.
Building materials are another outlet for Amazonian wood on industrialized markets. Japan alone imports about half the yearly production of tropical wood and Western Europe comes second. The United States alone consumes the equivalent of 2 billion dollars of products derived from tropical wood every year. Besides, the needs of paper industry for wood have tremendously increased for forty years.
If implemented correctly, forestry development in tropical zones could be viable for the environment. But governemental recommendations -when they exist- are rarely taken seriously. As a matter of fact, one tree out of twenty is really usable for forestry production, but for one useful tree, twelve are destroyed pointlessly. Also, one third of the trees is cut to make room for roads or paths for that exploitation. Last, forestry development strips immense virgin lands, thus attracting farmers and their families who assert their property rights over all the lands not occupied legally.
Grown for their content in proteins and low price, soybeans are the main fodder for European livestock. However, that monoculture devastates the Amazon forest, and its fertilizers and pesticides pollute the soil and the water; they also destroy an important number of species.
If the indegenous lands are not demarcated, soy farmers try to encroach on them. Food-processing giants lure the farmer by meeting all his needs -cheap credit rates, seeds, pesticides- and the guarantee to buy his production.
After the United States, Brazil is the second world soybean producer. In 2004-2005, 1,2 million hectares of soybeans were cultivated in Amazonia and 80% of the harvest are used as food for cattle.
In the 1970s and 1980s, nearly one thousand gold diggers invaded the territory of the Amazon Indians. They have turned Brazil into the fifth most important world producer. That gold rush that started massively in the 1980s is still gathering speed, fueled by recession and unemployment. 20% of the Yanomanis were decimated in seven years, having suffered from the invasion of their lands by gold miners, who contaminated them with diseases they were not immunized against.
At the end of the 1980s, that gold rush counted almost 5 million people.
Venezuela, Guyana, Bolivia and Colombia are now affected by that new "yellow fever".
Even though mercury is forbidden by law, it is used to separate gold from the river mud; it then poisons the communities living downstream.
Tin, copper, nickel, manganese, bauxite, gold and silver ores can be found in Amazonia. Mining disturbs the area both from an ecological and social viewpoint. Brazil has among the most important iron ore reserves in the world.
Unfortunately, they are in the eastern part of the Amazonian basin and feeding blast furnaces requires wood coal. According to the law, that coal can only come from reforested lands, but it is not always implemented, and part of that wood actually comes from the virgin forest.
Meanwhile, governments encourage extracting projects to promote the development of the country. Technologies are slowly improving and in the end, mining will develop. However, mining is extremely polluting: it affects drainage, pollutes the mine water , threatens local communities and modifies the quality of food.
Producing coca also threatens the virgin forest. Coca leaves are used to produce cocain.
According to a report from the American State Department, the production of coca and its related activities have already resulted in the destruction of over one million hectares of virgin forest in Peru, namely one tenth of the deforestation ongoing in the country since the beginning of the century.
Coca has always been harvested by the Indians of the Andean highlands. They chew the leaves to relieve hunger pangs or pain. However today, coca has become business. As the use of cocain is spreading out and generates soaring financial benefits, peasants clear tracts of virgin forest to plant coca.
South American governments, with the financial support of the United States, are trying to fight that production with weed killers which always destroy the forest. Most cocain consumers are to be found in Europe and in the United States. The only way to make cocain production less attractive would be a decrease in consumption.
In Amazonia, plants, animals and climate have been affected.
Plant species disappear during deforestation which poses a real problem for vegetal biodiversity because these species no longer reproduce. They cannot adjust to new spaces where they disappear to be replaced by artificial cultures.
For a few years, the climatic conditions of the rainforest have been changing: droughts have been observed above the forest and rains are more violent than before. Climate changes due to deforestation cannot be established with certainty and scientifically yet, but a modification of the ecosystem has been observed.
In ten years, there have never been so many climatic upheavals: the melting of the icecaps, global warming, floods, temperature records, storms...
These heat waves, droughts, floods or hurricanes are but a beginning. Humankind has always had a formidable adaptability. Yet, that adaptability will be seriously tested by the social, economic and political chaos these climate changes will generate, the fastest and the most dramatic in the history of humanity.
The rate of devastation of the Amazon forest is following a geometric progression and if no steps are taken, it will have probably completely disappeared within thirty years.
The survival of the Indians and the survival of the forest are the two sides of the same coin. A few decades ago, there were so many forests they did not necessarily depend on each other. But today one protects the other one.
Amazonia is dying. Virgin forests are dying all over the world. The forest, but also the wealth of its animal and plant life, its indegenous peoples and their ancient cultures, the hope of finding new drugs to cure our diseases, and above all the health of the whole planet.
As for us, citizens from other nations, we are not neutral and indifferent witnesses to this issue. We do share the responsibility, and must find a solution to save the virgin forest.
As the whole planet is now concerned with environment, it appears that the general phenomenon of global warming is woven into deforestation by fire. Deforestation is responsible for 75% of greenhouse gases in Brazil.
The greenhouse effect works like a market greenhouse: the molecules of carbon dioxide, CO² let the sunrays go through the atmosphere and warm the earth but the ozone layer, when filtering infra-red rays, prevents an excessive warming-up. Until the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, two hundred years ago, the level of carbon dioxide was regulated naturally by plants and sea organisms that turned carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon.
Deforestation in the tropics plays a twofold-part in global warming: rainforests produce nearly half of the world's oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. That is why they are sometimes called "the lungs of the planet". The less trees and plants, the less carbon dioxide the earth can absorb.
Forests play a major part in the stabilization of the planet's climate because they contain large quantities of carbon which would increase global warming.
Within twenty years, 80 to 120 billion tons of CO² will be released once the Amazon forest is totally deforested: as a consequence, the average world temperature will increase by one to one and a half degree.
That warming will increase the level of the oceans while melting the icecaps in Antarctica and Greenland. It will also change the direction of sea currents and winds, induce climate changes, floods and droughts which will endanger the whole planet.