Update on Our (Little) Progress in Rainforest Conservation

By: Shifa Malik


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons @ Rvannatta

Ironically, when these ecosystems are in more peril than they have ever been in before, the loss of the world’s precious rainforests is seldom being discussed in our mainstream media outlets. The University of Maryland (UMD) and World Resources Institute (WRI) proved that solely in 2019, 3.75 million hectares of primary forest were cleared during the year, which is almost equivalent to 14.5 thousand square miles. We’re going to dive into the reasons behind the rise in rainforest deforestation and its global harmful impact, as well as the efforts that are being put in place to reduce these alarming numbers.

Currently, the most impactful factor is the global pandemic. BBC News reports that the amount of logging, illegal mining, land clearances, and wildfires has risen to a point where the damage done to the Amazon will be irreversible. Additionally, many of the field agents and supervisors working to protect reserves were removed by Ricardo Salles, who is Brazil's minister of the government and is known for having an agenda that doesn’t support the rainforest. He has already cut the budget of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources by 24%, which gave loggers and miners more room and opportunities to destroy the rainforest. As more forests are cleared, the remaining forests will become increasingly susceptible to fires. This is because the soil will dry up due to disruptions in the water cycle, causing it to heat up more rapidly, according to Dr. Alexander Lees, a lecturer in tropical ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University. This will initiate a snowball effect - more carbon will be released into the air from the fires, adding to the already growing emissions as trees are cut down. Experts predict if rainforests continue to be cleared at the current rate, there will be an increase in droughts and temperatures globally. These outcomes could even cause a surge in transmitted diseases, says Beatriz Oliveira, from Brazil's Climate Change Investigations Network. Research conducted by Stanford biologist Erin Mordecai and her colleagues supports this prediction, as her research shows that higher temperatures increase the chance of the diseases spreading in colder areas. This is because mosquitos can adapt to relatively high temperatures up to a certain point. The rise of illegal logging, increased temperatures, forest fires, and droughts as a result of rainforest deforestation, along with withdrawn financial support for the preservation of the rainforest from countries like Norway and Germany due to insulting behavior from the Brazilian president as well as the countries’ disagreement about the proposed funding, spell deep trouble for the Amazon's uncertain future.

Unfortunately, planting trees won’t be enough to substitute for the unique benefits that the Amazon provides such as its biodiversity, which decreases the effects of disruptions to fragile ecosystems when animal and plant species are wiped out from natural disasters. The Amazon also stores huge amounts of carbon in the older trees, and overall reduces the harmful impacts of climate change. An example of this is how one large tree (with at least three metres circumference) can absorb 10 to 12 tons of carbon dioxide, or what a family car emits over four years. Scientists and experts all over the world are calling for a zero deforestation policy, but not enough is being done with them to have an effect big enough to curb deforestation. However, that’s not the only solution.

Mongabay, a conservation and environmental science news platform, explained 5 ideas that could be crucial to saving the rainforests. Some include better law enforcement, land police reform, and making use of formerly forested lands, like using improved technology to generate higher yielding crops. Judson Valentim of the Brazilian Farm Research Corporation suggests using cleared land to farm, grow grain, or raise cattle can support many professions while restoring the land to its original condition. Another idea would be to restrict the trade of certain rainforest tree species. This has been implemented with mahogany, but Brazil still has a long way to go in terms of enforcing existing forestry laws. Additionally, another idea would be to reduce the effects that logging generates. For example, loggers should direct where trees fall to inflict the smallest impact on the surrounding forest and use technology to reduce damage to the soil caused by log extraction.

Rainforests all over the world need our protection against foreign countries’ exploitation for natural resources and it’s going to take a global commitment to stop deforestation and climate change before it’s too late. At the rate the rainforests are disappearing, it seems like they may be completely erased from the Earth in the near future. We can’t survive without rainforests - if they disappear, who knows what could happen to us?


What Did You Learn?

Questions:

1. What are some of the biggest issues rainforests are facing right now?

Rainforests are mainly facing an increase in illegal logging and mining and decreasing funding from outside wealthier countries due to disputes that were poorly handled, and a decrease in the number of protected or reserved areas of the Amazon rainforest. All of this is leading to increased rates of deforestation as more and more animal and plant species are going extinct and temperatures continue to rise globally, thereby worsening the impact of climate change. A more specific example of how the rainforest is being impacted is the soil is drying up due to less water being given through the water cycle as a result of larger trees being cut down. This is leading to an increase in forest fires, as drier soil catches fire more easily.


2. What are some ways to help the rainforest survive?

Enact stricter laws that protect endangered areas of the rainforest and use technology in a way that benefits the rainforest instead of harming it. More ideas include using cleared land to farm and raise cattle which could help the land by tending to it in order to bring it back to its original condition. Another idea would be to restrict the trade of certain rainforest tree species. This has been implemented with mahogany, but Brazil has to enact these laws with other tree species in the future. Another idea would be to reduce the effects that logging generates by directing where trees fall or establishing plantations on deteriorated lands.


Citations:

https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_conservation.html

https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/how-much-rainforest-is-being-destroyed/

http://www.sfltimes.com/news/amazon-rainforest-faces-fire-threat-again

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51300515

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bucker1.jpg

https://newint.org/blog/books/2010/12/14/rax-interview-jonathan-mazower

https://earth.stanford.edu/news/how-does-climate-change-affect-disease#gs.8jjti1

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/16/norway-halts-amazon-fund-donation-dispute-brazil-deforestation-jair-bolsonaro#:~:text=Norway%20has%20followed%20Germany%20in,from%20the%20country's%20rightwing%20president.


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