Did you know that in the last fifty years, Brazil’s Amazon has lost about a fifth of its forest cover?
This is bad on so many levels!
It affects the rainforest’s ability to generate rainfall and support its ecosystems. On top of that, it drastically lowers carbon dioxide absorption, which is a key component of the global warming issue.
But why is this happening?
Keep reading to find out!
9 reasons why the Amazon rainforest is being deforested
1) To make space for cattle ranching
Cattle ranching is “the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest,” according to Rhett Butler, the founder of a nonprofit environmental media organization.
He explains that “in Brazil, this has been the case since at least the 1970s: government figures attributed 38 percent of deforestation from 1966-1975 to large-scale cattle ranching. Today the figure in Brazil is closer to 70 percent.”
In other words, the Amazon rainforest is being deforested to create more pasture land to raise cattle.
But where does all that beef end up?
Well, according to Butler, most of the beef is destined for urban markets. In fact, Green Queen notes that:
“New data shows that a third of Chinese people are eating more beef since 2020. A great deal of the beef imports into China are coming from Brazil, resulting in a devastating cost to the country’s Amazonian rainforests.”
However, China is not the only country that imports beef from the Amazon rainforest. Numerous other countries contribute, too.
2) To grow soybeans and related products
The second leading cause of deforesting the Amazon rainforest is farming.
The Amazon Conservation Association confirms it:
“Uncurbed expansion of ranching and unsustainable farming practices clear forests and leaves areas more prone to fires that can quickly become uncontrolled.”
And what are they growing?
“The crops grown on these areas of land include soybean, sugarcane, corn, and rice,” says Rachel Graham.
Brazilian scientists developed a new variety of soybean more suited for the rainforest climate.
And because of that, “soy emerged as one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from the 1990s through the mid-2000s,” said Butler.
However, commercial agriculture is not the only one to blame. Small-scale agriculture also plays a significant part in deforesting the Amazon rainforest.
It’s not as big as commercial agriculture, but it’s significant enough to have a huge impact on the Amazon rainforest.
3) Because of illegal logging especially in Brazil and Peru
Loggers typically remove the valuable hardwoods first and then they leave behind scraps without any economic value or they burn them.
Also called selective logging, this kind of logging usually occurs in remote areas where the authorities can’t monitor them. It accounts for a huge amount of deforestation.
But wait, there’s more!
“Logging in the Amazon is closely linked with road building,” adds Butler.
How so? Well, how else would the loggers get to the forest to log it?
On top of that, when illegal loggers carve out large areas of the Amazon rainforest, the logging creates the conditions for more deforestation.
To be more precise, logging roads also provide access to colonists. And once they have access to the forest, they start cutting down trees and farming.
4) To carve out roads
Road building is another cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Roads into formerly isolated areas greatly increase access for loggers, miners, and ranchers.
Furthermore, roads create the conditions for more deforestation and for more environmental degradation in general. This can include flooding, heavy erosion, frequent wildfires, and soil erosion.
The CFR confirms it:
“Road construction attracts workers and settlers. Around 95 percent of deforestation takes place within four miles of a road.”
To put it simply, roads create a huge incentive to increase forest destruction.
5) Because of legal and illegal mining
The next cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is mining.
Legal or illegal, both kinds of mining have a huge impact on the rainforest.
According to the Amazon Conservation Association, “Illegal and informal gold mining causes significant ecological and social impacts in the Amazon, including direct deforestation and mercury contamination.”
In other words, gold mining harms the rainforest.
But it doesn’t end there.
The Amazon is not only rich in gold, but also in bauxite, iron ore, copper, and nickel.
Mining for these minerals causes erosion, flooding, and land degradation. And also leads to deforestation.
Even so, the damage done by mining is far less significant than by farming and logging mentioned earlier.
6) Due to intentional and natural fires
Another reason for deforestation in the Amazon is intentional fires.
The intentional fires are set to clear land for farming or burning off unwanted forest growth.
Rachel Graham confirms it:
“Fires are often deliberately started in the Amazon to clear land for animal agriculture, crop production, and other related activities.”
But what about wildfires?
“It’s important to understand that fires are not a natural phenomenon in the Amazon rainforest. The fires generating headlines around the world for the last several years are ignited by people,” says Chris Greenberg for Green Peace.
It means that natural fires are unlikely to occur in the Amazon rainforest.
Besides, people have been intentionally starting fires in the Amazon for centuries.
7) To make room for dams
“Brazil gets nearly 70 percent of its energy from hydropower, largely from the Amazon,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
This means that the Amazon rainforest is a huge part of Brazil’s energy supply. But at what cost?
“The rain forest’s dozens of major dams often flood large swaths of land, displacing nearby communities and triggering plant decomposition,” notes the CFR.
But, these are not the only problems. There are simply too many dams already made and too many already planned.
So, the Amazon rainforest is also being deforested to make way for more dams.
8) Due to a lack of sufficient law enforcement
“While most Amazon countries have well-developed environmental laws and an independent judiciary, law enforcement has generally been weak in those countries,” concluded Ricardo Pereira and Beatriz Garcia in a special issue article about the legal protection of the Amazon rainforest.
To put it simply, law enforcement is too weak to prevent illegal activities from causing the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
But why is that?
Because weak, underfunded, and corrupt law enforcement agencies are unable to effectively prevent illegal extraction.
In short, there are not many ways to bring loggers and miners to justice.
However, the fight isn’t over yet. The Iberdrola group, a global energy leader, has some encouraging news:
“In their crusade to protect the Amazon rainforest, ecological organizations are demanding a series of commitments from different social stakeholders,” such as government, companies, and civil society.
So, even though deforestation in the Amazon rainforest isn’t slowing down, some progress is being made.
9) Because of oil and gas extraction
Although not one of the main causes of deforestation, oil and gas extraction is also destroying areas of the Amazon rainforest.
“Oil and gas development is generally not a major direct driver of deforestation – most of the impact comes from the construction of supporting infrastructures like roads and pipelines,” says Butler.
What he’s trying to say is that although it’s not the primary cause of deforestation, there are direct links. He’s referring to the roads and pipelines built to access the oil and gas reserves.
But where does the oil come from?
“This research reveals that 89 percent of the crude oil exported from the Amazon comes from Ecuador,” notes the Amazon Watch.
Even more surprising, “66 percent of that goes to the U.S.” In other words, the United States is one of the main consumers of Amazon oil.
How much of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed?
Now that you know the main reasons for deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, let’s find out how much damage has been done.
“MAAP estimates that 13.2 percent of the original Amazon forest biome has been lost due to deforestation and other causes,” says Liz Kimbrough for Mongabay.
But how much is that?
If we do the math, we’re talking about more than 85 million hectares (211 million acres). In other words, this represents an area about one-tenth the size of the United States.
But the real question is what’s next?
If the Amazon rainforest reaches its tipping point of deforestation, which is 20 percent to 25 percent, it will turn into a dry and degraded savanna.
By now you should have a better idea of why the Amazon rainforest is being deforested at an alarming rate.
The main reasons for this destruction are cattle ranching, farming, illegal logging, mining, intentional fires, and deforestation for dams.
However, many other factors contribute to its destruction: weak law enforcement, oil and gas extraction, etc.
And if deforestation continues, the Amazon rainforest will soon be a dry, degraded savanna.