Everything You Need To Know About The Amazon Rainforest Deforestation (And How You Can Help Stop It!)
Rainforests are a part of our Earth’s lungs — they provide a significant percentage of the oxygen we need to breathe globally (our oceans are another important oxygen producer), sequester carbon from our atmosphere into the soil, provide a home to millions of indigenous peoples, and billions of native animal and plant species (many of which have yet to even be discovered).
The rainforests are one of our planets life lines, and therefore one of the lifelines of the human race. Unfortunately, rainforests today are under attack due to human created forest fires and deforestation that are placing corporate interest and corrupt politics over one of our most precious natural resources.
But in order for individuals to truly understand this crisis and how we can help, it’s important to have a foundational understanding of just how we got here, what the current situation looks like (both in the Amazon and globally), and how we can continue to move forward for long-term advocacy and protection of our rainforests.
What Is The Amazon Rainforest?
What is the Amazon Rainforest anyway? While you may have a general understanding of what the Amazon Rainforest is from your grade school days, let’s refresh our memories with a quick overview of what the Amazon Rainforest is, and why we should care so much about it.
Amazon Rainforest Facts
The Amazon Rainforest is home to more than 10% of all plant and animal species known on Earth making the Amazon the most biodiverse landscape on earth.
The Amazon Rainforest is also home to more than 180 different indigenous groups.
There are many rainforests throughout the world (see the image below for a map of rainforests around the world) and rainforests can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.
The Amazon Rainforest specifically is the worlds largest tropical rainforest, which covers a geographic area of 6,000,000 square km.
For context the Amazon Rainforest would cover roughly 60% of the total United States.
While the Amazon Rainforest stretches over nine countries in South America, more than 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is found within the Amazon Basin in Brazil. This is important because it means that more than half of the Amazon Rainforest and therefore it’s protection and conservation is under the control of one governing body.
The Amazon Rainforest alone is storing more than 140 billion tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to 140 years of human created carbon emissions.
Scientists in Brazil have been officially tracking fires and deforestation in the Amazon since 1988, with records of deforestation scaling in the 1970s. This is not a new issue!
How Many Rainforests Exist Globally?
While globally tropical rainforests once covered 14% of the earths surface, over the past century we have seen a loss of over 50% with rainforests now only covering roughly 6% of the world’s land surface area.
Rainforests are still present on every continent (excluding Antarctica) but they are all at risk for deforestation, with the Amazon and Southeast Asian rainforests experiencing the greatest degrees of deforestation today.
Why Are Rainforests Important For Fighting Climate Change?
Beyond the beautiful biodiversity and native home that our world’s rainforests provide for millions of people, animals, and plant species, our rainforests also play a critical role in capturing carbon from our atmosphere, which make them a key player in the fight against climate change.
Due to continued expansion of deforestation across the globe, deforestation is today considered to be the second largest anthropogenic producer of carbon dioxide admitted into the atmosphere. In fact, research now estimates that land use practices such as agriculture and forestry account for roughly 24% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
To put this simply, this means that every time a forest is destroyed the carbon that was stored by those plants is released like air leaving a ballon into our atmosphere. But this air is in the form of carbon, something we already have too much of in the atmosphere and need to be keeping in the ground, not removing.
According to the Yale School Of Forestry and Environmental Studies, scientists have estimated that all the tropical rainforests globally contain roughly 25% of the carbon present in the world, and the Amazon Rainforest alone is storing more than 140 billion tonnes, which is equivalent to 140 years of human created carbon emissions.
While these statistics may seem alarming, they also means that we have the potential to significantly decrease our global carbon emissions by improving our land use practices. In fact, according to the National Academy of Sciences it is estimated that “natural climate solutions” through conservation, restoration, and regenerative agriculture could provide over one-third of the needed CO2 mitigation required to limit our global warming by 2030.
History Of Amazon Rainforest Deforestation & The STate Of Deforestation Globally
Unfortunately, the Amazon rainforest due to varying factors from corrupt political control, to powerful corporate interest, and the sheer difficulty of protecting and conserving such a vast landscape has been under attack for decades.
This may come as a surprise when most of the general public is just now beginning to learn about the sheer magnitude of devastation occurring in the Amazon Rainforest, but scientists in Brazil have been officially tracking fires and deforestation in the Amazon since 1988, with records of deforestation beginning to scale in the 1970s.
But the Amazon Rainforest is not the only rainforest that has been experiencing deforestation. In fact a quick Pub Med search for rainforest deforestation will bring you over 500 articles over the past 50 years citing the impacts of rainforest deforestation on our planets climate.
While all forests (not just rainforests) today still cover roughly 30% of the worlds land area, research has shown that 15 million trees are cut down each year and since humans began cutting down trees more than 46% of our tree density has been lost.
These numbers are alarming, and while they aren’t meant to be used as a shock factor, they are important to put our current deforestation crisis into context, so we can stop it while we still have the chance.
How Big Is The Amazon Rainforest And How Much Of The Amazon Rainforest Is Burning ANd Has Been Destroyed
Fires in the Amazon are not a new phenomenon, but this year (2019) is particularly devastating with more than 74,000 fires recorded by scientists in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest alone.
The reason that deforestation in the Amazon has finally begun to reach the mainstream public this year (2019) is in large part due to the 83% increase from 2018 which recorded 40,000 fires according to scientists from the Brazilian National Institute For Space Research. With fires now blazing at record rates of destruction, the crisis in the Amazon is finally gaining the attention it has deserved for decades, but up until this point hasn’t received.
We are now talking about decades of destruction that has resulted in a loss of roughly 20% of the Amazon Rainforest over the past 40 years as estimated and recorded by NASA data and imagery, and this crisis is only gaining momentum. To view an interactive map of the current fires recorded in the Amazon Basin, click the image below.
How Many Indigenous Peoples and Native Plants and Animals Call The Amazon Home?
The Amazon Rainforest absolutely impacts each and every person living on this planet due to its sheer magnitude of biodiversity, carbon sequestration capacity, and oxygen creation.
However, while the Amazon Rainforest is important to us all, it is also the home of 10% of all plant and animal species known on Earth making the Amazon the most biodiverse landscape on earth. The Amazon Rainforest is also home to more than 180 different indigenous groups who have been fighting for its protection since deforestation in the Amazon began more than 50 years ago.
Like any global environmental crisis, it is easy to extrapolate the issue to the large impact it will leave on the planet and humanity as a whole, while glazing over the immediate and current impact it is leaving on the people who call the Amazon home.
What Is The CUrrent Political Landscape That INfluences Deforestation In The Amazon
The combination of corporate interest and corrupt government policy has shown a negative impact for rainforests everywhere and particularly in the Amazon. When President Jair Bolsonaro become president of Brazil in January of 2019, he systematically dismantled the country’s environmental ministry and weakened regulations that allowed for agribusiness to have unprecedented access to the Amazon rainforest.
President Bolsonaro himself described the Brazilian governments forestland protections as “an obstacle to economic growth” in the country, and made promises before becoming elected to ensure that protected lands would be made available for commercial development, which so far he is making good on.
However, the current fires and deforestation in the Amazon cannot be blamed solely on Bolsonaro as the previous Brazilian president Michel Temer had also reduced funding for the environmental preservation agency, and deforestation in the Amazon dates back more than 50 years!
But while the current Brazilian President may not be responsible for all the current deforestation issues in the Amazon, he certainly is not making matters any better, and is actively putting corporate interest over the Amazon rainforest preservation.
Additionally, the current US trade war with China has resulted in an increased demand for Brazilian exports, particularly beef and soybeans, which are two crops playing a role in the Amazon’s deforestation. In 2018, Brazil was the world’s largest exporter of beef, exporting roughly 20 percent of total global beef exports, with China being it’s largest importer.
What Are The Largest Causes For Amazon Rainforest Deforestation?
There are many reasons why the Amazon Rainforest and other rainforests around the world (particularly in Indonesia) are being burned and logged for materials, but the main driving factors are:
Palm Oil Farming
Mining For Metals
Logging For Building Materials, Furniture, and Paper
Coffee and Tea Farming
Banana and Pineapple Farming
According to the Rainforest Alliance, it is estimated that farming alone is the cause of roughly 80% of all rainforest deforestation. While farming can take place within the geographical boundaries of our rainforests, setting fire to the rainforests and planting monoculture farms is a much more cost-effective means of farming for farmers who are simply trying to make a life for themselves.
The deforestation caused by farming in the Amazon Rainforest and globally should not be blamed on the farmers themselves, and instead on the larger system the makes it nearly impossible for farmers to make a livelihood without using these types of destructive methods.
This is where organizations like the Rainforest Alliance are doing really important work by aiding farmers and advocacy groups working in our rainforests to teach sustainable farming practices, and broker access to the larger global market with their Rainforest Alliance Certified Label. When farmers are given greater autonomy in their farming and access to the larger global market they are much more likely to be able to farm in a way that supports the local rainforests and provides a livable wage.
This is where consumers can help to improve the demand for ethical and sustainably sourced goods, and give farmers more autonomy to fight for their rights and the land they are stewards of.
Do You Need To Go Vegan To Save The Amazon Rainforest?
The short answer — no. In fact, going vegan will most likely have very little impact on whether or not deforestation continues in the Amazon. This is a policy and conservation issue, not a dietary lifestyle issue.
Before we get into the reasons why the notion that “going vegan” will save our planet is misguided (if well intentioned) I do want to preface this by saying that this is in no way an attack on any one person’s choice to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I myself was vegan/vegetarian for 10 years of my life and fully understand the mentality and deep belief system entrenched in that lifestyle.
However, I now have years of sustainable food system and global health experience working in a wide variety of countries, cultures, and food/access income brackets, as well as a deep understanding of the human bodies nutrient needs as a dietitian.
I now know that the vegan concept is just that — an ideological concept. It is not something that is rooted in traditional food cultures, it is not a way of eating that the human race adopted over centuries, and it is primarily a result of a privileged ideology that requires significant access to diverse plant-based foods and always additional supplementation to avoid negative health outcomes.
But why won’t going vegan save the Amazon? While cattle ranching is one reason why Amazon Rainforest deforestation is occurring it is not the only reason, and overly simplifying our global deforestation crisis to the privileged perspective of one singular, restrictive dietary lifestyle is not going to save our planet or the Amazon.
However, this is not to say that we should not be demanding sustainably farmed beef using regenerative practices. Rather than removing peoples voices from the conversation by giving up beef, we should be decreasing our consumption of cheap beef, and demanding that all animal and vegetable production be sourced from sustainable supply chains that use regenerative growing practices.
And yes — in order to responsibly raise beef we as a globe will need to consume less of it, and instead opt for higher quality meat that is positively impacting our planet and playing a part in supporting soil quality, improving nutritional health, and sequestering carbon.
How Can INdividuals Help Fight Amazon Rainforest Deforestation And Deforestation Globally?
So now that you have a deeper understanding of the context of the Amazon Rainforest Deforestation Crisis as well as our much larger globally deforestation issues, what can YOU do to help?
Share - share - share
One of the simplest actions that you can take to support rainforest conservation efforts globally and help the Amazon Rainforest Fire Crisis is to share the information you have available to you. We live in a world where the media can be used for good and bad, and we the people for the first time in history have access and control to our own media through social media channels.
So if you care about helping the Amazon Rainforests, and all rainforests globally, then share this information with your friends and family and utilize social media to put pressure on our governments actions and response.
Pressure from the collective media is one of the fastest ways we can get our policy makers attention and encourage immediate and swift action. So don’t ever take the power you have to spread awareness lightly.
There are many organizations that you can choose to donate your money to help fight deforestation in the Amazon, but the following are some of the best that I recommend. I also would highly recommend that you think long and hard about the issues that you want to consistently support through financial donation.
Today, it feels like we are constantly being asked to donate to one cause or another, and there will always be hundreds of different causes that would warrant our support. But most of us do not have the capacity to give to everything, so instead I recommend that you focus your attention on a few key areas that you personally want to make a consistent impact in.
If fighting deforestation is one of those causes that you feel passionate about supporting, then I highly encourage signing up for a monthly or annual automatic donation. These donations you can always right off on your taxes and setting up a recurring donation will help you feel like your money is being allocated with more intention, then always feeling like you are randomly giving to a new cause each month.
The following organizations I would highly recommend supporting in the fight against deforestation of the Amazon rainforests and other rainforests globally:
Contact Your LOcal Representatives
Your state representatives jobs are literally to represent you and your concerns for your local environment and the actions our government takes to support our global environment. So please, do not feel scared, nervous, or anxious reaching out to your elected officials on issues that matter to you and the planet.
One of my favorite ways to make contacting your local representatives so much easier is to sign-up with Countable, which is a free online and mobile app based company that makes reaching out to your representatives and staying up-to-date on issues that concern you so much easier.
Sign This Petition
This Green Peace International Petition is collecting signatures that will support pressuring and influencing the Bolsonaro Brazilian government to protect the Amazon and the lands and rights of indigenous communities that call it home.
Support Sustainable Supply Chains
The time for sustainable and ethical supply chains is now! We live and benefit from a global economy and consumer system that needs to be cleaned up!
The Accountability Framework is a great place to start to learn more about sustainable supply chains and the work that a collaborative of NGOs are doing to create a systematic framework for improving supply chains globally.
But how can you support sustainable supply chains in your daily life? Start by researching the companies you are choosing to support. Today if a company is committed to sustainable practices then they will be vocal and transparent about them!
Additionally, you can look for labels like Direct Trade, Fair Trade, and the Rainforest Alliance, which can all help you determine at a quick glance if there were standards put in place to ensure that environmental and ethical supply practices took place. While no label is perfect these are a good place to begin if you are standing in the grocery store confused about what to purchase.
Lastly, whenever possible opt for local. Purchasing locally is one of the best ways that you can support your own local economy and people, and brings you much closer to the entire supply chain.
Choose Recycled Paper Products
Paper products are a major contributing factor influencing deforestation in our forests and rainforests globally. Recently the NRDC and Stand.Earth partnered together to compile a report ranking the impacts of most popular household toilet paper brands. The results weren’t great, and reveal a destructive “tree-to-toilet” pipeline that most people who use toilet paper are unknowingly supporting.
So if you want to help reduce deforestation of our rainforests, starting with recycled paper and toilet paper products is a great place to begin. Below you will also find some infographics from the NRDC/Stand.earth Report that detail the current deforestation issues associated with the toilet paper industry, and show their rankings for the best and worst household toilet paper companies.
Support Regenerative Agriculture
Since conventional farming is estimated to be responsible for roughly 80% of all rainforest deforestation there is a huge need for supporting regenerative agriculture, which is a traditional form of agriculture that supports and works with natural ecosystems, not against them.
Regenerative agriculture also has the benefit of creating farming practices that actually improve soil quality and sequester carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.
Regenerative agriculture is especially important in the beef industry where cattle, if farmed appropriately, can be used to improve native vegetation, soil quality and sequester carbon into the soil.
educate - educate - educate
Not a teacher, scientist, or expert in deforestation and sustainability? Great, you don’t need to be and you can still spread awareness.
Once you know better, do better, and part of doing better is sharing the information you have!
Simply sharing this article or talking with your friends and family about what you now know about the state of our Amazon Rainforests and the deforestation taking place globally is impactful. Knowledge is power. It is what corrupt governments and industries are most afraid of, and it is our greatest asset for creating global change.
While we absolutely need and value the important work of scientists and policymakers, their work will only make the impact we need it to if average people choose to advocate and speak loudly for it.
If you find the information you learn here valuable I would appreciate you sharing it with your friends and family. The more people we can reach the more of an impact we can make.