Seated in the heart of South America, Brazil is the continent’s biggest economy, instrumental in the development of its neighboring countries. Brazil’s population currently stands at 211 million; however, figures from the World Bank indicate that annual population growth is falling, with rates dropping from 2.89% in 1960 to 0.78% in 2018. In contrast, Brazil’s annual GDP growth rate has increased at an average of 2.51% from 1991 until 2019. The destruction of the Brazilian rainforest is fueling this consistent growth in economic prosperity, but at what cost?
The Amazon rainforest, 60% of which is located in Brazil, has been hit by an excessive scale of destruction, potentially having permanent impacts on the land that many indigenous tribes call home. One reason as to why the destruction of the rainforest is perceived to be a necessity is linked to the fact that Brazil relies heavily on cattle ranching. It is the world’s largest exporter of beef: Roughly 1.63 million tons were exported in 2018, the highest number on record, totaling 20% of global beef exports.
The Amazon Rainforest Fires Are Worse Than You Think
These exports, driven by the global increase in demand for beef and soya from emerging markets like China, accounted for $6.57 billion in revenue in 2018 — an 11% increase from 2017, projected to grow to $7.26 billion this year. The revenue generated from the sale of beef across the world contributes in raising the living standards of individuals through higher incomes, leading to greater increase in the marginal propensity to consume.
Local and Global
While wildfires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, the vast destruction that has occurred earlier this year was to a large degree a result of fires started to clear land for farming. However, there is a limit to the size of land that can be allocated to cattle ranching, and there will come a point when Brazil will have to allocate its finite resources to producing other goods.
Rising incomes in the developed world have led to an increase in the demand for higher quality furniture. This increase in demand has fueled the extreme levels of logging that take place in Brazil, but has contributed positively to increasing exports on the global financial market. Brazil’s timber market contributes $53 billion, or 6.9%, to the country’s GDP. However, loss of these trees leads to soil erosion, which in turn leads to water pollution, which impacts those who rely on these for drinking water.
According to The Independent, deforestation levels in Brazil have risen to peak levels, with around 7,900 square kilometers of the Amazon cut down in the past 12 months. But over the last couple of years, the timber market has been shrinking due to a fall in export prices, consequently leading to falls in export revenue. Reliance on timber may be waning, which could lead to Brazil having to focus on other sectors in which it can gain a competitive advantage.
The destruction of the Amazon rainforest will inevitably lead to more extreme weather patterns across South America and the rest of the world. Rainforests are unique in the way that they can produce their own rainfall: Rainwater is extracted from the soil and travels to the canopy, where it is released back into the atmosphere as rain. This continuous cycle leads to a cooling effect that helps keep temperatures at a moderate level. Consequently, the destruction of vast amounts of rainforest will lead to less rainfall due to diminishing levels of moisture that surrounds the forest.
The constant fluctuations in weather patterns could have a massive impact on the jet stream, potentially leading to inconsistent weather patterns across the various countries beyond South America.
Each tree in the Amazon rainforest contain enormous levels of carbon, which, when burned, are released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide — a gas contributing to the greenhouse effect that is causing global warming. The World Resources Institute indicates that burning wood generates more carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy generated than fossil fuels. This statement shows the true extent of the problem caused by excessive deforestation and the severe impacts this is going to have on trying to stay within the Paris Climate Agreement of keeping temperatures below 2˚ Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Amazon accounts for more than 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, meaning that the continuous destruction will lead to the inevitable disappearance of these species. Many indigenous people in Brazil rely on the species and flora of the immense landscape to sustain their livelihoods. Many tribal communities are evicted from their lands, and even those whose lands are protected feel the adverse effects of illegal logging and mining that come along with the destruction of the rainforest.
On the one hand, the rapid destruction of the Brazilian Amazon may be seen as necessary to maintain future economic growth. But it also poses an existential threat to the world at large. If the current trends continue, they will eventually lead to the permanent destruction of the Amazon. Many climate scientists believe that this tipping point has already been passed.
World leaders must step in and take action in order to help reduce the lasting impacts of this impending catastrophe. Individuals can play a big part in protecting this vast landscape by being mindful of the products they consume. It is our responsibility to make a change and live with the lasting consequences that will pass on to our future generations. We have to stop abusing the availability of these vital resources. The life of the Amazon — our planet’s green lung that produces 20% of the oxygen the Earth breathes — is in our hands.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.