Rising deforestation raises concern for future

Almost a decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement, recent reports have indicated that Amazon deforestation has unexpectedly risen. (Jay/Flickr Creative Commons)

What produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s oxygen? What is home to an estimated 10 million species of trees, animals and insects? What is disappearing at a rate of two million acres per year? The answer to all of these questions is the same: the Amazon.

Located in South America, primarily Brazil, the Amazon rainforest covers over one billion acres. One-fifth of the world’s freshwater can be found in its basin, and if it were a country, it would be the ninth largest. Rainforests could potentially be the largest pharmacy in the world, as 25 percent of all current pharmaceuticals and 70 percent of the 3000 plants found to be cancer-fighting are species only found in the rainforest, despite the fact that less than one percent of plants having been tested by scientists thus far.

Almost a decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement, recent reports have indicated that Amazon deforestation has unexpectedly risen. On measurements made by satellite images, an estimated two million acres were deforested between August 2015 and July 2016, up from 1.5 million and 1.2 million the previous two years.

Experts point to one main reason as to why so much land is being cleared: agriculture. Food giants, Cargill and Bunge, are American-based companies that deal with local, South American farmers, paying them to grow local crops, primarily soybeans. The more acres of plots that farmers have, the more money companies will pay. It only makes sense that farmers would clear acres of forest to expand their wallets.

It is a largely under-the-table operation where representatives from the companies make contact with local villagers and create agreements. Villagers then transport harvested crops to weighing stations where the exchange is made. There is very little paper trail and even less liability. So little in fact, that when presented with interviews and first-hand accounts, Cargill chief executive David MacLennan said he had no knowledge of the fact that such agreements, or the deforestation that they caused, were even happening and if he finds them to be truthful, “we’ll do something about it. […] If that’s accurate, its not acceptable”. I’m sure MacLennan was being completely honest there.

The truth is, companies like Cargill only care about their bottom line. Outwardly, they care about the environment but at the end of the day, less trees equals more crops, which equals more profit. They are cheating the world in order to make money. Never mind the fact that this increase in deforestation and Cargill’s current business model goes directly against an agreement - New York Declaration of Forests - that Cargill and other companies (not Bunge) signed in 2014.

The companies agreed to eliminate deforestation from all palm oil, soy and beef production by 2020, and all other products by 2030. This means that all products will be produced on land already barren of trees. When asked to react, Cargill said it has plans to fully eliminate deforestation from palm oil production but plans on fully eliminating it from soy by 2030.

Glenn Hurowitz, chief executive of Might Earth, a satellite imaging company, says Cargill is “willfully misinterpreting the Declaration,” an opinion echoed by many environmental groups. The declaration clearly states “soy” in the 2020 deadline and Cargill should be held responsible for not complying.

Forests are an important resource, and countries like Brazil understand this and have strict deforestation laws. Countries like Bolivia, where a decent portion of the Amazon is located, have much looser laws and in some instances, actually promote deforestation. President Evo Morales of Bolivia has an agenda to create agricultural expansion. In a country with higher greenhouse gas emissions per capita than some of the largest European countries, of which 80 percent is created by deforestation, how much more expansion is necessary?

We need the rainforests, and in this instance, they need us. There was a time when 14 percent of the world was covered in rainforest. That number has decreased to six percent today. An estimated 137 species of plants, animals and insects go extinct each day due to rainforest deforestation (http://www.savetheamazon.org/rainforeststats.htm). While the world needs an ever-increasing supply of food and land, we must not take from the forests, but instead work to optimize what we already have.


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.