There are some significant problems with the rainforest and we need to get involved and be concerned. The rainforest accounts for a significant portion of our oxygen. The rainforest also removes carbon dioxide from the air we breathe. Since air and breathing are important to the quality (and continuity) of our lives, it’s time to check in and see what is going on. This is a round of some issues facing the Rainforest due to human impact.
Deforestation is the key way that governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia measure the change (reduction) in the Amazon Rainforest. Usually this is the only way. Deforestation happens when there is logging and all the trees are removed, and when the local people take over portions of the forest for alternative purposes, usually farming. Corporate farming is especially on the rise in Brazil as there has been an increase in the worldwide demand for palm oil. Deforestation is drastic with approximately 20% of the Amazon disappearing over the last 40 years.
Deforestation is easy to measure as pictures are taken over time, showing the change. What is harder to measure is forest degradation. This happens when trees are selectively cut down. The selected trees are usually the old, large trees of high value like mahogany and ipe. These trees contribute to the canopy of the Rainforest. The canopy is important because it keeps in the moisture, allowing other high moisture need plants to grow with wild abundance. Tall trees are important because they raise the height of the rainforest, allowing for more plants to grow upwards, rather than just on the ground. It’s difficult to measure forest degradation, so its generally ignored.
Forest degradation and deforestation lead to another problem, that of fire. Very often the local people will use slash and burn techniques to clear the rainforest so that they can have cattle or grow cash crops. Rainforest soil is not highly productive. The rainforest itself has evolved to make heavy use of recycling plant material, with many plants living off of other plants.
The burn technique is a form of fertilization, the plant material is burned, releasing nitrogen, which becomes fertilizer for the new plants. Of course, the nitrogen is used up after a few years, and either the land must have new fertilizer, which the (generally poor) indigenous farmers cannot afford, or the farmer must burn new parts of the rainforest to survive.
Slash and burn techniques mean fire. Fire gets out of control. Usually these are small fires and quickly burn out. The problem comes with repeat fires in the same area. The Rainforest can handle one fire, but if there even small, fires every year or two, it degrades the Rainforest, and starts to destroy the canopy. It recovers more and more slowly until it’s not recovering at all.
Mining has been close to my heart because of what is going on here in Ecuador with the Yusani Park. There have been many protests and political debates around the recent government decision to allow China to drill for oil in the pristine Yusani park.
Yusani had been set aside as a protected park, but Ecuador is in debt to China and Yusani has oil. The digging has begun with all the accompanying destruction. Highways are being cut to accommodate the large trucks and heavy equipment. Trees are falling every day.
Of course this is not just happening in Ecuador. Brazil and the surrounding countries have also discovered gold, oil and other natural resources that they are uncovering in the Rainforest. Often the areas of actual mining are small, but the roads needed to get to the mining areas, the absolute stripping of the soil, the exploration and increased number of people living in the area have a deep impact on the quality of the forest, not to mention the impact on local indigenous people.
What can be done about Human Impact on the Amazon
Politically we need to move towards recognition of the Rainforest as a valuable worldwide resource. The Rainforest is usually thought of as a national economic advantage, when the reality is that they are international environmental and economic treasures.
Here in Ecuador, President Correo asked the international community to protect Yusani Park. He said that if the rest of the countries of the world contributed $2 billion, they would not go forward with oil mining in Yusani. There were a few pledges from other counties, but the amount was significantly less than $2 billion.
Ecuador needs money to feed its people and build roads over the towering Andes to grow its economy. It defaulted on its international loans of $7Billion in 2008 and other countries are understandably reluctant to lend them money anymore. Ecuador has little real choice in whether to allow China to mine in Yusani given its debt to China.
This scheme of raising money for Yusani obviously didn’t go down well in the international community in its poorly disguised attempt at coercion/manipulation. But there have got to be other ways to provide economic incentives to poor countries to protect the Rainforests under their care.