Rainforests around the world continue to disappear. They once covered 14 percent of the planet, now that is reduced to just 6 percent. Scientific research from the last twenty years has shown how much the health of the planet is dependent on healthy rainforests. Due to environmental degradation caused by human activities the conditions of all rainforests, including the Amazon, have started to change.
The Amazon rainforest has existed for at least 55 million years and is the world’s largest tropical forest, covering over 5.5 million square kilometers. The nations United Kingdom and Ireland combined could fit into it about 17 times. Its area spans through South America; Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, and French Guiana.
In the Amazon lies the most potent and bioactive diverse natural phenomenon on the planet. It is by far the most significant rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.
This rainforest is responsible for 20 percent of the total oxygen in the world, which is why it is also called the Lungs of the Earth.
Expert estimations show that this massive arc of biodiversity may disappear in the next century. And we will not only lose entire ecosystems and species but one of the essential factors that regulates the global climate. If that happens, humankind as we know it will be drastically changed.
The Amazon rainforest is crucial for global climate
Deforestation is shaping the Amazon’s vast expanse, and humans are entirely responsible. Deforestation alone produces roughly 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire European Union.
By cutting vast amounts of trees and vegetation, we are depriving the planet of its essential climate regulators, as they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This element can be produced naturally or through human activities, and its production rose tremendously since the Industrial Revolution. Since then and for a century and a half, the human population has been sending unimaginable amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. CO2 creates a greenhouse effect as it traps the heat coming from the sun, not letting it escape into space. As a result, the planet becomes warmer, and our climate changes.
At this moment, over 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed by humans, and much more is critically threatened as the destruction persists. Estimations say that the Amazon alone is being destroyed at a pace of 20.000 square miles per year. If nothing changes and this loss continues, the entire Amazon could well be gone in the next fifty years.
Massive deforestation has devastating consequences. Fewer rainforests result in extremely negative impacts for the entire world – less oxygen for us to breathe, less rain, and an increased threat from global warming.
Roughly 50 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the Amazon.
Additionally, trees and plants based in rainforests exchange with the atmosphere vast amounts of water and energy and are considered to be important in controlling local and regional climates.
The water released by plants to the atmosphere and ocean through rivers is a major influence on the circulation of ocean currents, and thus the world climate.
Without tropical rainforests, the greenhouse effect would likely be even more pronounced, and climate change may get even worse in the future.
What is threatening the Amazon
- Hydroelectric projects that are flooding wide areas of rainforest.
- Power plants and several other industries that are cutting and burning trees to generate energy.
- Farmers that are destroying the rainforest to obtain firewood and to make room for crops and grazing lands.
- Governments and industries that are clear-cutting forests to make way for service and transit roads.
- Agriculture, especially the soy industry, is erasing the Amazon for cropland.
- Logging interests are cutting down the rainforest trees in exchange for timber used in flooring, furniture, and other objects.
- The cattle industry is making use of slash-and-burn techniques to clear ranch land.
- The paper industry is turning vast regions of the Amazon trees into pulp.
- Mining operations are clearing the forest to dig mines and build roads.
There are practices that could save millions of acres of rainforest every single year. To evade such devastation that will cause huge negative outcomes, we may start to apply some strategic techniques, such as:
- Campaigns that educate people about the destruction of rainforests and why it is so important they thrive;
- By encouraging the purchase of sustainable rainforest products, we can reduce the demand low enough to slow deforestation;
- Sustainable-logging regimes that selectively cull trees rather than clear-cut them;
- Encouraging people who live close to rainforests to harvest their nuts, fruits, medicines rather than clear-cutting it for farmland;
- Cutting or reducing the consumption of paper and wood;
- Investing in rainforest communities.
Economic incentives can also encourage reforestation. In Colombia, for instance, reforestation is used to offset carbon emissions and avoid the country’s carbon tax. In the case of Ecuador, a program that provided economic incentives to landowners to maintain native forests helped this nation to reduce its deforestation rate by almost half between the years of 2009 and 2014, compared with the period between 1990 and 2000.
In comparison there is a shortage of policy proposals to defend the Amazon from our hazardous activities. By identifying possibilities for economic growth that is synergistic with conservation, we can provide the best outcome for the Amazon basin and the world.
It is estimated that the Amazon rainforest represents half the rainforests in the world today. Needless to say, if the end of the Amazon comes into reality, it will be one of our greatest losses. It will not only deeply disturb our climate. We will lose numerous flora and fauna, a huge number of which have not even yet been found and studied.
Rainforests currently provide sources for one-fourth of today’s medicines, and 70 percent of the flora found to have anti-cancer properties can be found exclusively in rainforest environments. The rainforest and its immense undiscovered biodiversity hold the key to unlocking tomorrow’s cures for devastating diseases. How many treatments have we already lost? Indigenous people native to the Amazon for centuries will also vanish.
The Amazon provides the world with life support services such as pollination, nutrient cycling, primary production, soil formation, and habitat provision. Such services make it possible for the ecosystems to continue providing food supply, flood regulation, and water purification.
Hence, the whole world and especially the countries that are benefiting from the Amazon rainforest should take responsibility for preserving it, taking care of wildlife conservation, and combating the climate crisis in which we find ourselves.