Words by Emily Burkhardt Art by Audrey Chmielewski
If you’re someone who hears the word ‘Amazon’ in 2018 and thinks of empowered female warriors freaking the crap out of Chris Pine with their fierceness, you’re going to be disappointed by this article. Wonder Woman’s out on DVD now, go find one and watch that instead…
But, there is another Amazon in this world that is currently on life support. I guarantee you it needs way more attention than any character from the DC Universe. I’m talking about the Amazon Rainforest, and let’s be honest – us humans aren’t really treating it that well right now.
For those of you who haven’t taken a geography class in a while, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. It supports 5.5 million square kilometres of vibrant and potentially dangerous nature, and extends into nine countries around the top of South America. If you were to go to the Amazon right now, you would be surrounded by 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 430 amphibian species, 3,000 fish species and 380 reptile species. Covering 40% of the continent and producing 20% of the world’s oxygen supply, the Amazon is a biomachine.
So why is the Amazon slowly dying? I did say it was on life support, so how did we get into this environmental mess? As always, it’s our fault. Humans are the problem. We just can’t leave the nature alone, we have to cut it down to make way for human things.
No joke, deforestation is the Amazon’s biggest threat. Initially, deforestation occurred because local populations would cut down trees to produce crops for their families and villages. These days, vast areas of the rainforest have been chopped down for cattle pastures, soy farms, dam construction, mineral expeditions and bulldozed for towns and colonisation projects. At the same time, the building of roads has opened up previously secluded areas of the Amazon to new farming settlements, illegal logging and land entrepreneurs.
Deforestation has become so ingrained in the life of the Amazon that an area the size of Texas has been deleted from the rainforest’s existence since 1970. But, the singular practice of deforestation isn’t the entire Amazon murder story. There’s other things going on, things that you may not know about.
Cattle ranching has been driving deforestation rates up for years, and increasing global demand for soybeans has spiked the need for more land clearing in these areas. By the 2000s, more than 75% of forest clearing has been for cattle ranching. Surging demand for commodities like beef, soy, sugar, and palm oil have also pushed up demand for farming areas.
Amazon deforestation is the gateway for other practices like small-scale subsistence agriculture, large scale commercial agriculture, all forms of logging and urbanisation projects like roads, dams and mining. Plus, when it comes to all these practices, South American countries like to all get in on the act. Deforestation for soy is still widespread in Bolivia and Paraguay, and illegal logging is still rife across Brazil and Peru. Dams drive deforestation by powering industrial mining and farming projects. High mineral and precious metal prices have also encouraged the devastation of lands across Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Peru. In Ecuador, the government has decided to open Yasuni National Park for oil drilling. I can’t see that ending well for the environment….
Long story short, it’s really quite a hot mess.
But, why does any of this matter? We could keep going down this deforestation road and slowly suck the life out of the Amazon, but everyone would get their shit and be none the wiser. Why does this need to be a problem more people talk about?
Tropical rainforests are home to roughly 50% of the species on Earth, and they do a heck of a lot in terms of making our planet more than just a concrete jungle. Rainforests are often called the lungs of the planet for their role in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Both animals and humans need that to survive, so that’s important. They are also climate stabilisers, homes for a variety of awesome plants and animals, and help to produce rainfall all over the world. I could list more awesome things, but if you’re not convinced by what I’ve already mentioned, you have no heart and the Lorax will come and haunt your dreams forever.
Now, I’m not here saying that you need to be so inspired by the perils of the Amazon Rainforest that you tie yourself to your nearest tree until deforestation is outlawed in South America. That isn’t going to happen. But, I do hope that this has made you feel like we need to love Mother Earth a little more. She has feelings too.