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The population of the world today is 6,112,911,145 and progressively growing. Unfortunately, that figure is expected to double by the year 2050. Four-fifths of this population resides in developing countries of the “South”. Because of extreme levels of fertility, mortality, and new migration, these developing countries are accountable for most of the world population growth. There are many reasons that explain why the numbers are increasing, but the main reason is the way of life for many of the people inhabiting these regions. With the combination of an unmet demand for family planning and the desire for a large family, the world’s Total Fertility Rate(TFI) is 3.1. This is significantly higher than the average population replacement TFI of 2.1.
The population explosion is forcing people to migrate away from the city and into the surrounding area, which is causing an urbanization of the rural areas. To support this spreading, roads and cities are being constructed where plant and animal rich ecosystems exist. One region of particular global concern is the Amazon Rainforest and the effect of the spreading population from the coastal areas of Brazil. Currently, Brazil has a population of 172,860,370 people. A majority of this population currently depends on the local rainforest to support human growth. It has been reported that at current deforestation rates, only scattered remnants of tropical rainforests will exits and a quarter of a the species on Earth will be extinct by the time today’s preschoolers retire. However, because of the ever-growing need for development, the soil, the trees, and the wildlife of the Amazon Rainforest are suffering at the hands of a demanding population growth.
Soil Condition and Agriculture, Politics and Industry
Agriculture is a big factor in the rainforest region of Brazil, which is the fifth biggest country in the world and home of 140 million people. It allows one third of its population (the ca. 400 native tribes, the poor and the migrating people) to support themselves, their families, and the rest of the nation. While the coastal regions, which contain two thirds of Brazil’s population, are in dire need of food products and depend on the local agriculture, Brazil’s production of coffee, sugarcane, cassava, bananas, and sisal is number one in the world. In the Western Hemisphere, it is the leading producer of rice and pulses (beans, peas, and lentils). It ranks second in the world with the production of oranges, cocoa, and soybeans, and third in the production of black pepper, and corn (maize) and in the size of its herds of cattle and hogs. With the help of more intensive farming technology (like the use of fertilizer, use of hoes for weeding, or planting of crops in rows rather than scattering seeds), the amount of land that poor people need to reclaim from forests to feed themselves could be reduced by high numbers.
Politicians are aware of the problems and many are trying to promote the idea of plantation forestry, by abandoning government policies that explicitly encourage deforestation, by reforming the timber industry, and restricting the logging in general.
Today, 85% of Brazils amazon jungle region is still covered in trees. To keep this important area in the temporary condition, plantation forestry (as a source of additional income) is promoted, since it can be just as profitable as chopping trees from virgin forest. It has the obvious advantage that growers can choose which species to cultivate. Developing countries with hot climates have the competitive advantage in this market, simply because trees grow much faster than in temperate climates.
The pressure of the green lobby abroad got the authorities to dismantle some of the more obvious incentives to wreck environmental havoc as well. In the beginning of the 1990s, a series of tough environmental laws were passed, prohibiting the landowners from logging more than 50% of their land. Deforestation went down in the Brazilian Amazon from 29,000 square kilometers in 1995 to 18,100 square kilometers in 1996. Partially responsible for the decrease was the creation of the program for prevention and control of the forest fires in last July with $25.9 million from the World Bank and the Brazilian government.
Since the population kept growing extensively during the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil had to answer the needs of their people by growing economically as well. With the growth of 7% per year, industrialization, the mechanization of agriculture, and the building of highways, power plants, and cities were all taking place simultaneously in order to nourish the growing population and to supply them with jobs. In the 1980s, Brazil was producing about 12 million tons of steal a year and many of its end products, such as hardware and automobiles, were made for export and achieved a surplus in external trade, helping the national budget, but also creating environmental problems.
The combination of bad policies, population growth, and poverty makes the rainforest issue a difficult problem area to solve. Poor people use mainly wood as fuel, and no one really seems to care about the government regulations that restrict logging. Politics cannot be successful in areas where people don’t care, or where there is so much bribery that it makes the government powerless. As part of the national interest, Brazilian government shrunk the Amazon forest between the 1960s and 1990s. Brazil was trying to solve problems of overpopulation, landlessness, and poverty in the country’s crowded coastal region by moving people in their border regions. By doing this, they also created the so-called safety valves, populated buffer zones taking off the pressure on their vulnerable borders. The Brazilian government saw the thinly inhabited Amazon as an invitation for foreign invaders and, by moving the people, this thread was not eliminated but its constant threat was greatly downgraded. In order to get more people in these regions, the authorities gave ownership of the land to newcomers that simply had to clear the trees on it. The government also built roads and schools to attract even more people for their “the land without people to the people without land “-campaign (2). Now there is a growing problem with the inhabitants, nobody really seems to know who owns the land, and disputes are often settled by violence. Often, owners don’t register their land on purpose just to circumvent the possibility of restriction by the authorities. This uncertainty and violence about ownership rights lead in turn to the increase of cattle ranching in the region, since cattle herds can be moved on if someone else claims and takes the land. The government also had firms pouring into this region and setting up giant cattle ranches by offering tax breaks to the companies. The same tenure of insecurity also means that the chances for plantation forestry, however sensible in theory, do not stand a chance in practice. Besides, it would take trees at least 20 years to grow and return a profit, while there is always a chance of accidental fires that might destroy the whole investment.
On an other political note, the tough laws of the early 1990s (prohibiting landowners from logging more than 50% of their land) were also softened (down to 20%), and deforestation reached an all-time high in the Brazilian Amazon in 1995 (29,000square kilometers – an area of about the size of Belgium). The government estimates that 80% of the timber in the region is harvested illegally, but IBAMA, Brazil’s powerless environment agency which lacks financial support, managed 1997 to collect only 6% of the fines it levied.
As for Brazil’s industry, commercial logging is one big cause of deforestation and the demand for timber is expected to increase from 1.6 billion cubic meters a year in 1995 to 1.9 billion cubic meters in 2010, driven by rising standards in living. The pollution that comes with the enormous growth is also reason for acid rain, which is a combination of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that are produced by the burning of fossil fuels, mainly produced by the Industry. Sulfur dioxide, SO2, in combination with oxygen will create sulfate, SO4. The sulfate in turn can be transformed in the atmosphere with H3 (in this case in form of fog, rain, or snow) into sulfuric acid, H3SO4, also known as acid rain. This rain is slightly acidic and passes through the canopy where it either can be diluted by deciduous trees (like the big leaf maple, for instance), or just ignored by others. When it is not diluted, it can work its way through the soil where it takes the minerals out of the topmost layer of soil, carrying them with it deeper into the ground. The mineral enriched water travels on, leaving a matrix of silica particles (sand) in its path. This will make the soil start looking grayish. A well-developed layer of silica is usually white and some of these layers in the forests of Brazil were seen that were up to 10 meters deep.
Understandably, the Agriculture suffers from such drastic influences as well. The same slash and burn methods that were used for generations in the past to gain new fertile fields are now presenting a growing threat as well. The “controlled fires” tend to be going out of control and burning huge amounts of forest every year. Brazil’s National Space Research Institute had sighted 1,700 wildfires over the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul during the last week in August 2000, up from 270 wildfires in the same region in July. According to IBAMA, almost all the fires are human caused. 51% of the farm properties are made up of usually small family operated farms with less than 35 acres, and have few tools or conveniences. 39% of the countries farmland is owned by less than 1% of the population, their average size of farm land is more that 25,000 acres. More often than not, farms are now not efficient enough anymore, since the soil in the Amazon is generally not as fertile as elsewhere in more moderate climates. Crops would begin to fail after a few years and force the farmers to clear even more land.
There also is the different point of view between Brazilians and the rich world’s environmentalists, who want to preserve the forest for two main reasons: a) because burning them could eventually contribute to world climate change, and b) because they know that forest loss will reduce bio-diversity. Both are long term worries, although, recent research suggests that burning trees is now beginning to affect the local climate of the Brazilian rainforest too, making it drier and more liable to accidental fires.
Deforestation is a confounding problem in the Amazon Rainforest. According to Brazilian government, 6,347 square miles of rainforest was destroyed from illegal logging and farming in 1998-99. This remains constant with the 1997-98 deforestation rates. About 80% of timber harvested in the region is harvested illegally. The effect of extreme deforestation is very apparent in Pargomina, a city in the north of Brazil.
The air is bitter with sawdust and smoke. Dozens of sawmills are slicing up prime rainforest tree trunks, and each is surrounded by dozens of charcoal kilns spewing out black smoke. For hundreds of miles around, the landscape is bare of trees except for the odd stump. No one takes any notice of government regulations that restrict logging, explains a manager at one of the sawmills; and if officials try to enforce them, they can be easily bribed. “Everyone is out for the quick buck here,” he says. (2)
When environmentalists show their concern over the loss of the rainforest, Brazilians get annoyed. They believe the arguments for preserving the forests are a “rich man’s luxury.” They are mainly concerned with the country’s need to improve its people’s living standards. The main argument is the economic one. Brazilians believe that it is in their best interest to cut into the forest to provide and economic support for Brazil. However, rapid deforestation is rarely in the economic interest of the country concerned. Even with the demand for Amazonian rubber trees, most of the trees harvested are not used, but simply slashed and burned. Because of the low fertility of the soil in the Amazon, farmers are depleting more and more forestland to find fertile soil for agriculture. Between the 1960s and the early 1990s, Brazilian government, to such an extent, supported these actions that newcomers can qualify for ownership of land simply by clearing the trees on it. The government also offered tax breaks to company’s spending money on approved development schemes in the region. Beginning in the early 1990s, to appease the green lobby abroad, the Brazilian government passed a series of increasingly tough laws. One of which prohibits landowners from logging more than 50% of their land. However, this figure was later lowered to 20%. More recently, a $435 million program was implemented to free the Amazon from the grip of drug traffickers, loggers, and mining operations deep in the region. The program, “ProAmazonia”, will send police fanning out across the 1.9 million square miles of the Brazilian Amazon, a vast swath of land roughly seven times the size of France. Head of federal police counter-narcotics operations, Getulio Bezerra, said, “the plan will allow the development of an air surveillance and patrol system in the region, which is where we are most vulnerable”(1). Most of this legislation has become more supported by Brazilian government because of increasing global concern of air pollution. It is a fact that the issue of global climate and the greenhouse effect surpasses regional boundaries, which affects the atmosphere as well as the biosphere. Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for at least one half of the greenhouse effect, in which atmospheric gases, mostly produced by human activities, trap the sun’s heat, slowly warming the earth. Deforestation by burning accounts for up to 25% of the annual global CO2 emissions. A tree’s composition consists of half carbon, and by burning them; we release all of that carbon into the atmosphere. Astonishingly, three-fourths of deforestation in the tropics is due to burning, which releases about 2.4 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year (5). An example of the effect on the people would be found in Santa Catarina, Brazil, where “the environmental secretary estimates that 80% of the local hospital patients have respiratory ailments caused by acidic pollutants”(4). There are many dangerous and ecological threatening effects to global warming. Rising sea levels due to melting of several large glaciers could affect coastal communities through more frequent flooding and increased soil salinity. There could also be dire implications for the organisms, which live in the sea, especially if the warming of the atmosphere leads to a subsequent warming of ocean temperatures. Another major concern involves the soil. Because the topsoil in the rainforest is so thin, it lends itself to rapid soil erosion. Without the trees there to act as a buffer between the soil and the rain, erosion is practically inevitable. Soil erosion then leads to greater amounts of run off and increased sedimentation in the rivers and streams.
There are many ways to decrease the rate of deforestation in Amazonian Brazil. Reforestation practices would not only repopulate the bare land, but it has also been proven to actually decrease patterns of global warming by fixing the CO2 in the atmosphere. Instead of burning all of the trees, recycle them into some sort of process, even if an industrial one if it keeps the trees from being wasted. But in most cases reforestation cannot fix the devastation wreaked on the rainforest. A loss of biodiversity will start to be noticeable within the next century. Where an acre of woodland in the northeastern United States might include a dozen different kinds of trees, a typical acre of rainforest may have as many as 300. Many species are in danger as well. Even though scientists can not pinpoint exactly how many species roam the Earth, the Global BioDiversity Assessment, a UN-sponsored report in which about 1000 scientists have had a hand, gives a good working estimation of between 13 and 14 million species. Of that number, only about 1.75 million have been scientifically described. They suspect that the number of species in tropical rainforests will fall by 5-10% over the next 30 years. It is known that ecosystems containing a broad diversity of species are more adaptable to changing conditions. Presently, all of the world’s food crops are based on a mere 9 species of plants, but in the future, any of the thousands of species in the tropics may prove invaluable. The diversity of animal life between the Amazon and its tributaries is equally abundant. Most of it is concentrated in the treetops about 150 feet above the ground where food and sunlight are plentiful. The continuous deforestation is devastating to the global environment. Not only is it a contributor to the greenhouse effect, but it is also contributes to the loss of homeland for the rich wildlife in the Amazon forest.
The inclined rate of population has increased deforestation in the rain forests, which has put wildlife in devastating danger of becoming extinct. Wildlife brings many resources to humans across the planet including food, wealth for trade, clothing, medicine to cure specific diseases, laboratory testing, outdoor adventure or nature study activities, and many more that helps support and entertain human life. If population threatens wildlife, imagine the global effect it could have on the ecosystem.
The positive issues of wildlife in Brazil consist of local animal poaching for economic trading. Many groups of people living in Brazil rely on animal poaching as a way of survival. The slaying of the rainforests can have an impact on these groups of people forcing them to find some other method of work due to the depletion of many species of animals that they rely on for money. Another pro for safeguarding our wildlife is the economic wealth it brings to the apparel industry. Many clothes around the world have been made out of animal hide and fur. This brings local wealth to the countries that export these animals and will be a major downfall in the apparel business if we destroy species of wildlife at higher rates due to population.
Other forms of positive influences that wildlife brings to our world consist of animal testing for cures to specific diseases and overall safety of products for humans. Without animals to test manufactured products on, humans would be a lot further behind in medicine and overall well-being. Products such as shampoo, specific kinds of beauty products, health products and medicine help the way we live our lives today. It would be a different world if we did not have animal testing.
The negative aspects of depletion of wildlife due to overpopulation consist of spreading of diseases, extinction, starvation of humans and animals, and depletion of fish groups due to water contamination pollutants. Destroying the rain forest to compensate for population growth will destroy hundreds of known and unknown species of animals that can have many streakening effects on mankind and the animal kingdom itself. Diseases will increase because animals will have to hunt for food for their survival in and around human civilization. The contact between animal and humans will increase significantly and raise our chances of being infected with minor and major potential diseases.
The extinction of animals will be our greatest loss due to overpopulation. Thousands of animals will perish from existence because we will threaten their ecological systems by cutting down their homes and our forests. Since 1600, over 480 animal species and 650 plant species are recorded as having become extinct (Article). Also other types of animals will become overpopulated because the animals that used to feed off of them will no longer exist causing an abundance of smaller animals. This will be one on mankind’s biggest downfall due to overpopulation.
Starvation of humans and animals will increase if we decrease our Amazon rainforest. Local groups of people who live in and near the rainforest will have to seek other forms of survival because the economic value of cutting down the rainforest is much greater than human life. Many groups of people depend on animals that live in the rainforest for their protein intake. If we destroy the rainforests we have the potential of killing off human beings who depend on the deep treasures of the rainforest. Also, animals in the rainforest depend on other animals for survival. If certain species of animals start to diminish then the animals that feed off them will have to depend on other forms of survival such as local cattle or possibly humans. This will have overwhelmingly effects of biodiversity inside our rainforests.
With continuos growth to compensate human growth major fish and water life species are being destroyed because development has spread toxins in nearby streams and wetlands. Wetlands are being drained to support hydroelectric producing equipment, such as dams, to support human demands for power. Streams and rivers in the Amazon will become overfished to help feed increasing population. As the population increases, there will be more demands for inexpensive food sources, such as fish (230, Global Issues). Overpopulation will have its toll on land, in water, and the air we breathe if we don’t plan for the future and save our rainforests.
Conclusion and Thoughts
Rainforest inhabitants are destroying Rainforests worldwide for the profits they yield-mostly harvesting unsustainable resources like timber, for cattle and agriculture, and for subsistence cropping. However, if landowners, governments and those living in the rainforest were given a viable economic reason not to destroy the rainforest, it could and would be saved. Government and industry must become more aware of the consequences of their activities and change accordingly. Education is one of the most effective catalysts for change. Society should undertake to educate the people of today to change their ways and the younger generations to have respect for nature. Recycling of trees should be mandated by all local agencies and high-yield planting should be the minimum we need to allow if people are allowed to cut down forests. Institutions need to be established to help instruct and educate people who work for companies that cut down trees to allow them the knowledge of repercussions if we do not protect our trees, animals, and soil. Last but not least, International aid and programs should be established to help constrict losses of our forests. Destroying rainforests is an international issue because it affects every individual person on the planet, which will impose global consequences. If we delegate new laws and institute education into the system we can reverse the damage that has been done to the rainforests and preserve the beauty for future generations of families.
1. Forest Conservation Organization. “Brazil Launches Defense Program for Amazon Jungle”.
9 November 2000. .
2. Jackson, Robert M., ed. Global Issues. 16th ed. Guilford: Dashkin/McGraw-Hill, 2000.
3. Rotnem, Thomas E. “Issues in Development: Population Growth and the “Greying
Syndrome”. Class lecture. Political Science 2401: Global Issues. Southern Polytechnic
State University, Marietta. 23 August 2000.
4. Snarr, Michael and D. Neil Snarr, eds. Introducing Global Issues. Boulder: Lynne Rienner
Publishers Incorporated, 1998.
5. University of Oregon. “Amazon Deforestation and Global Environmental Phenomena.” 20
November 2000. .
6. U.S. Census Bureau. “International Data Base”. 10 May 2000. .
7. The Latin American Alliance. “Brazil – Country Profile”. 11 November 2000. .
8. Amazon Interactive “Making a Living”. 12 July 1998. .
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