The Amazon and us

First published on August 12, 2007

_“In the time it takes to sing this song,

There’ll be four acres cleared in the Amazon.

The jungle burns all through the night,

They say you can see it from the satellite.

Smoke so thick for miles around,

They had to close the airports down.

The green of the jungle turns flaming red

As another cattle ranch gets the go-ahead.

Hamburgers grow where the forests once stood,

Somehow I get the feeling that we’ve all been fooled.

Hamburgers grow where the forest once stood,

In another twenty years they’ll be gone

for good.”_

And so goes the song by an Australian, Brun Watson. The song though, is not updated with its numbers. The rate of destruction has increased several times since the time this was written. As you read this, the forests are burning; the lungs of the earth are being destroyed.

For those who don’t know, rainforests are old-growth forests near the equator, tropical regions and some temperate regions with rainfall above 100 cm per year. They are important for the ecological integrity of earth and the balance of its climate. They cover 7% of the earth’s surface but contain 50-90% of all the species of plants and animals!

They regulate the CO2 levels of the atmosphere and therefore play a major role in countering global warming, a prominent and deadly problem occurring on earth. In fact, 25% of the green house gases being emitted come from the burning of the Amazon. Stopping this therefore, would be a very significant step in countering global warming.

As for who depends on rainforests: All the species that live there, indigenous communities, and ultimately, considering the intricate but invisible connections between everything living and non-living on earth, life on the whole planet!

The major threats facing rainforests around the world are:

Construction of roads and dams

Deforestation and unsound logging practices


Oil exploration and extraction

Land clearing for cattle ranching and farming usually of commercial crops like Soya beans.

Behind all these, there is a large market demand and money to be made.

Amazon, it is the largest rainforest in the world containing 40% of the tropical forests left on earth. Most of it is in the political boundaries of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. It contains one sixth or one fifth of all fresh water in the world, and just within Brazil, a third of all animal and plant species on earth.

We are losing tropical forests at rapid rates. 80-90% of them will be destroyed before 2020 if current rates continue. For the past decade, we have been losing just Brazilian forests at 13 000 acres a day. And now, thanks to ‘better technology’, we are losing them faster.

Loss of tropical rainforests means extinction of species globally. The natural rate of extinction was a single species in a decade. Over the past hundred years we have accelerated it to an unbelievable 27 a year!

But who is doing this to the Amazon? Massive Asian logging companies attack species like mahogany and ferule to make furniture for their own exports. The local governments are forced to accept the offers the various companies make, as their countries suffer from severe unemployment and poverty. Cattle ranchers burn the forests to make space for themselves. Their cattle graze this land ensuring that no new saplings grow so as to regenerate the area into the forest it used to be. Then these animals are slaughtered and sold to Mc Donald’s, usually in US. This is not the first environmental controversy for Mc Donald’s or US.

_“There was a man called Chico Mendes,

He fought the cattle ranchers head to head,

He told the rubber tappers to stand up and fight,

To protect their forests, to protect their rights.

But the ranchers had their claims to lay,

They wouldn’t let a conservationist stand in their way,

So one night in his home, they took him unawares,

Forty bullets in the back,

For Chico Mendes.”_

It’s a pity that’s what happens to people who stand for lives of plants and animals that did their malefactors no harm.

When one hears about all this, one feels like doing something about it immediately. It haunts one’s conscience that fellow human beings can be so selfish and money minded that they don’t care that their actions cause destruction to whole ecosystems as an immediate effect and the existence of life on earth eventually.

But yes, it is true. The Amazon issue is only one among the many issues that mankind will have to face in the foreseeable future. It is geographically far away and unless one has immense power and money and cares, one can’t do much about it.

Look closer home; deforestation isn’t the only step towards self-destruction we are taking right here in India.

We build big dams and cause social unrest and loss of species in that area among the many disadvantages of dams, (which would in itself require an essay).

Our markets encourage poaching of the most beautiful and unfortunately endangered species. This would naturally cause imbalances in those ecosystems and influence even abiotic factors like rainfall, soil fertility, and the various biogeochemical cycles.

We give subsidies to industries for all the raw material they need, which would only encourage rates of consumption to exceed rates of regeneration and leave us with less of it for the future.

We encourage unequal distribution of wealth by giving aid for ‘development’ in the wrong areas leading to the trickle down effect serving no good purpose what so ever; (this too requires an essay for itself.)

We build roads and flyovers to fight congestion in traffic not realising that ‘one can’t lose weight by loosening one’s belt’. The automobile boom needs to be questioned.

We waste water and electricity in all types of scales possible from a leaking tap, leaving the water flowing while brushing one’s teeth or shaving, to the absence of a valve in one’s overhead tank to mass leaks from the pipes which lead to domestic, commercial or industrial ends.

As for electricity, we carelessly leave fans and lights on in rooms that aren’t in use. We use out dated technologies like the incandescent bulb. We insist, even in Bangalore, to use air conditioners yet leave doors ajar defeating the purpose! We even leave our TVs on when we aren’t watching! Industries would have their own inefficiencies in their usage of electricity at larger scales. And instead on encouraging research in the efficiencies of our devices and methods of usage, we return to square one and build more dams.

The above list of examples of steps leading to self-destruction contains some seemingly trivial issues, but when one adds it all up and observes the trends, it exposes the unhealthy changes in lifestyle and governance over the past score years or maybe even since the industrial revolution.

Whenever we learn about more and more bad news for humans and other earthlings, we get quite irritated that despite knowing about it, we can’t do much to change anything.

But “Small is Beautiful.” And if everyone: young and old, male and female, rich and poor could wake up to reality, be aware of our actions and their consequences. be a little more sensitive and loving to others, be it humans and the rest of earth, maybe, just maybe, money won’t matter as much as lives, there wouldn’t be so much violence against each other and our own earth.

See also