Amazonia, Brazil is just one of the many states that are dominated by the Amazon rainforest. However, the landscape of this and many other rainforest areas are changing. The rainforests are being cleared away at an alarming rate. According to Hepner and McKee, “Human Movement into the tropical rainforest environment-in search of mineral wealth, lumber, farming opportunities, hydroelectric development, or military security-has been accompanied by rates of forest clearing unequalled in human history” (Hepner and McKee 424). The clearing of the rainforest due to human influence could lead to an ecological disaster.
Deforestation follows a fairly predictable pattern. First, roads appear. Then, people set up farms along the side of the roads. They clear out sections of land that create a fishbone pattern when viewed from the air. These fishbones collapse into large areas of cleared land over time. The soil is depleted after a few years, and the land is converted from farm land to cattle pasture. After the land is too depleted to support cattle, the land is abandoned and the cattle pastures are relocated (World of Change 1). Traditionally, McDonalds has gotten the blame for promoting this deforestation, but the problem is more widespread than just a few hamburger chains.
According to Wallace, The problem starts with the loggers, and not just the illegal logging and clear-cutting operations. Even the environmentally friendly selective logging operations are contributing to the problem (Wallace 1). These logging operations try to leave the wilderness as intact as they can. But logging requires heavy equipment, and heavy equipment requires roads. And when the logging operations are finished the roads remain. On these roads a mix of settlers and squatters and legal settlers arrive to settle the area (Wallace 1). So the cycle goes settlers to farmers to ranchers. But there is a new complication on the rise: “industrial-scale soybean producers” (Wallace 1). Cargill has installed a soybean washer and dryer in the Santarém area (Wallace 4). Before this processing plant was in operation soybeans were not considered a viable crop for the area because soybeans would spoil during transport if they are not processed through a washer and dryer (Wallace 4). Therefore, it can be seen that a myriad of international pressures are contributing to deforestation. This international pressure leads to a substantial amount of clearing.
One hundred and fifty acres of rainforest are being cleared away every minute. This would be a frightening statistic if the only concern was the loss of beautiful wilderness area, but the Amazon rainforest is thought to be home to three million species of plants and animals, yet only five hundred thousand have been identified. Forty-five percent of prescription medicines are made at least partially of rainforest derived products. With roughly five sixths of the plants and animals left to be discovered, the clearing of the rainforest could have a dramatically negative impact on the future of medical science.
If the impact on the future of medicine were not enough, the depletion of the rainforests is a contributing factor to global warming. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that are deemed responsible for creating the greenhouse effect. The rainforests trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen (Scott Wallace 3). Therefore, the clearing and burning of rainforests reintroduces this trapped carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and these lands are kept cleared creating an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And if that weren’t bad enough, the clearing of the rainforests creates a domino effect that leads to the loss of more rainforest. The Amazon rainforest keeps itself irrigated by the process of “Water Cycling.” The rainforest creates half of its own rainfall by the water respired during the process of photosynthesis. With more clearing there is less rainfall leading to droughts and forest fires that speed up the deforestation (Wallace 3). Therefore, the deforestation of the Amazon affects the entire world.
But since the signs of the upcoming ecological disaster are so clear-cut, people are taking notice. Some forests need to be preserved just for their natural beauty, but the Amazon rainforest has a much more important role to fill than mere beauty.
Hepner, George F., and Jesse O. McKee. World Regional Geography: A Global Approach. St. Paul: West, 1992.
Wallace, Scott. “Farming the Amazon.” National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug.
2013.”World of Change: Amazon Deforestation : Feature Articles.” World of Change: Amazon Deforestation : Feature Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.