Why is our rainforest disappearing so fast – Part 1

Destruction of the environment at the hands of man is happening at an alarming rate and yet we seem incapable as a species to take it seriously.

Take Rainforests for example, in just 100 years 50% have been wiped out on account of the amount of resources we are stripping from them. Over many millennia rainforests have helped to stabilize the climate state of the world as part of the carbon cycle and acted as a carbon sink. Now the opposite is happening and deforestation is considered to be the second major driver of climate change responsible for between 18 and 25% of global annual carbon dioxide emissions.

Rainforests are the homes of 50 to 90% of the world’s species so it’s not just the trees being destroyed but also a huge and diverse ecosystem containing some of the most iconic creatures on our planet such as Orangutans, Gorillas, Elephants and Tigers. It is estimated that 40 rainforest species are extinct every day.

What does the future hold for Orangutans

Part

There are several pressures put on rainforests these being –

Cattle ranching

Unsustainable agriculture

Logging

Mining

Fossil fuel capture

Dams

In this blog we will concentrate on Cattle ranching and unsustainable agriculture, returning to the other headings at a later date.

Cattle ranching – the production of beef is undoubtedly the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon region, 65-70% of all deforestation in this area is attributed to this one industry. Not just producing pastures for the cattle but huge areas to grow soy as a food source for the animals.

Cattle ranching is out of control in Brazil

Brazil is now the largest exporter of beef in the world and this is rising at an unsustainable rate to help feed an insatiable demand for more and more meat for emerging countries such as China and Russia.

It is estimated that for every 1kg of beef produced 40 square metres of rainforest is cut down. The soil is badly nourished once the rainforest has gone and soon becomes dry so rather than look after the land the farmers simply move on and cut down more forest.      

To make matters worse Brazil have just elected a far right president (Jair Bolsonaro) who is intent on opening up exploitation of the rainforest to a degree never seen before. At a time when ‘the lungs of the earth’ are more important than ever we could see an increase in the slide to our own self destruction.

Currently rainforest in the Amazon is cut down at a rate of 1 football pitch a minute roughly 6,000 square metres. At this rate an area 1.25 times the size of UK will be deforested every year (315,000 square kilometres). In 17.5 years the remaining 5.5 million square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest will be gone. If that’s not enough to jolt us into eating less beef I don’t know what is!

Unsustainable agriculture

Palm oil has taken over from soy as the number one culprit for deforestation in the agricultural sector.

Half of all packaged food and other products such as detergents, toothpaste and shampoo now contain palm oil. To fulfil this massive demand countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have been on a rainforest deforestation program to make way for huge plantations. Between them they now account for 85% of the world’s palm oil production.

An area the size of New Zealand is dedicated to growing pal oil

In Sumatra at least 10.8 million hectares have been opened up to palm oil production, a similar situation is happening in Borneo. Overall it is estimated that 27 million hectares of land is dedicated to palm oil production worldwide, that’s an area the size of New Zealand. Most of this has been cleared by fire which has had a devastating effect on biodiversity in the region and caused terrible air pollution.

Palm oil farmers prefer to clear primary forest because they don’t need to use as much chemical fertilizer (which is expensive) compared to clearing other types of land.

The destruction of the rainforest is often accompanied by human rights violations such as corporations forcefully removing indigenous peoples and rural communities from their lands in order to expand their palm oil plantations. Once established the corporations then do not seem worried about using slave labour and child labour on their plantations. In any other industry this would be under intense scrutiny so a group called Rainforest Action Network has launched a campaign called the Snack Food 20 to fundamentally change the way palm oil is produced. They are pressurising some of the biggest snack food giants such as Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Hershey’s, General Mills, Nestle, Unilever, ConAgra Foods, Smucker’s. Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ brands, Kraft Heinz and Grupo Bimbo to adopt stronger responsible palm oil policies. – good luck with that.

Palm oil is not just used in food and cleaning products it is also a major player in the biofuel industry, animal feed, chemical products, power and heat industries, it’s economic importance to Indonesia and Malaysia is vast and makes it very difficult to control.

As palm oil plantations develop they are responsible for releasing enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, in 2015, Indonesia, – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily overtook the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

This destruction by cattle ranching and unsustainable agriculture is a major cause of global warming, mass extinction of animal and plant species, flooding and soil erosion. We cannot afford to lose more of our forests. We need to do our share to help stop it now before we suffer the devastating consequences. Ideas will come later!

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