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The Rainforests - Deforestation


The Rainforests > Deforestation


One of our website visitors asked us about deforestation and we realised we didn't have a guide to the causes of destruction to the trees. What follows is a guide to the many contributors to Rainforest destruction. They are not in any particular order as over the past 20-30 years, they have all contributed to the loss of over 70% of the World's Rainforests. At the end of this guide, we propose resolutions to save the forests from further destruction.


Timber Industry

Trees are logged both legally an illegally to supply the timber trade. The industry is worth billions of pounds/dollars as the insatiable demand for wood in Japan, Europe and USA grows. There are governments who sell acres of forests to companies for a pitance in the premise that local workers are employed. Other governments have even offered their forests as payment for weapons!

In South America, in particular Brazil, criminal gangs have entered protected Indian reservations and felled trees. These are then passed into the market with false certification. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been instrumental in making the World aware of this problem. Yet, the problem still exists in other countries/areas such as South East Asia. Even Russian temperate forests are suffering due to the demand for timber from Japan.

Now consider the impact of a tree being felled. Despite the noise pollution from the chainsaw, the tree falls to the ground, striking surrounding trees. Wildlife is disrupted, plants are destroyed; the ecosystem is wounded. In Vietnam, soldiers were pelted with stones as they tried to prevent villagers from illegally logging trees.


Mining

Man's pursuit for greed and wealth has led to incessant destruction of the trees. Companies have bought mining rights to areas of forest so they can drill for diamonds and gold. Its not the workers who benefit from this, they are just as much the losers as the trees - its the companies that reap the wealth! The ecosystem suffers terribly as chemicals that are used to clean and lubricate drill bits, are washed into the rivers, polluting and killing everything it touches.


Oil and Gas Exploration

Once again, the forests suffer at the hands of the energy companies. Drilling rights are bought, trees felled and wells erected in the pursuit of 'liquid gold'. For all the reasons that mining destroys the forests, oil and gas exploration are the same.


Paper Industry

There are conflicting views about whether trees are specifically felled to supply the paper industry. Moreover, after trees are felled for the timber industry (for furniture, building materials etc), they are cut and whatever is discarded from this process is put through a chipping machine (for bark chippings for gardens) or made into pulp. This pulp is then used in the manufacturing process of paper. Any smaller trees that are felled during the exraction of the larger trees are used for paper. The reason - wood is used as virgin pulp to make paper whiter and stronger as DEFRA, the UK agency, reports that paper can only be recycled so many times before the structure of the paper breaks down.


Farming

Trees and the ecosystem are savagely attacked by farmers using 'slash and burn' techniques. Areas of forest are cleared by fires in the view that the lush ecosystem that exists, and the ash from the burning trees, will provide fertile soil for crops. This is true but it is only for a year when the rains wash the nutrients and the soil away. The farmers then move to another area and continue the process. The fires in Indonesia in 1998 were blamed on farmers and despite millions of acres of rainforest being destroyed, and South East Asia being blanketed in a thick smog for a few months, no-one was prosecuted. The pollution from this sitiuation had consequences as heavy rains turned the hills into deadly mudslides.

It now seems the largest problem facing the rainforest ecosystem is from soya farming. This product is primarily used for cattle feed. Millions of tonnes of soya are grown with the intention of feeding animals - surely this could be grown elsewhere or is it the low price that attracts so many Western countries to purchase from the likes of Brazil?

Is it really worth it just to grow - unsustainably - bananas, cocoa, coffee, rubber and palm oil? If you buy any of these products then make sure they are Earth-friendly, for you could be unwittingly helping to contribute to the trees' demise.


Cattle Ranching

Land is cleared in much the same way, and cattle is sent to graze. This cattle is used to supply the multi-billion dollar beef industry in the US and in which Brazil is increasing its share. We received information from Aloke Barua who had been researching this subject. One article was by Ronald Cummins who presented a case for The Environment against the main US burger companies who were/are part of the 'Hamburger Connection' which was threatening Costa Rica and Guatemala.

From Ronald's CV, he is well qualified on Costa Rica & Guatemala and investigative journalism. He found that McDonalds and Burger King while claiming to support rainforest preservation and maintaining that they buy no hamburger meat from recently deforested areas, they were an integral part of an industry that if left unchecked threateneed to destroy rainforests in Central America. He quoted a statement from a journalist for the UK newspaper, The Observer, that quotes McDonalds as saying they would not buy beef from rainforest areas that were deforested within the previous 10 years (their policy to 1988) or 25 years (their policy from 1989).

He notes that meat imported into the US from rainforest areas is mixed with domestic meant in processing plants, and McDonalds admits that they were complicit in destruction prior to 1988.

Ronald further states that 10 or 25 years is not enough for a rainforest to regenerate naturally. He found that US companies such as Cargill, Iowa Beef Processors and Con-Agra, use alternative suppliers in Argentina, Central America and Australia as blackmail to keep prices that they pay to US ranchers as low as possible - yet the US domestic market produces a surplus! Since 1984 in Guatemala, he observed farmers moving from deforested land and ranchers moving in. In this way, neither the rancher or the US company will accept any blame for felling the trees.

Ronald suggests, along with RAN, that the only policy to preserve the rainforests is to ban all beef imports from countries containing rainforests.

(Thanks to Aloke Barua for supplying this information and thanks to Ronald Cummins for his excellent work)


Conclusion

When we read of the causes above, we forget what else happens to these ecosystems. To supply companies or to transport wood, access roads are carved through the forest. This brings people deeper into the forests and into contact with new diseases. Ebola and Aids are said to originate in the forests and it was Man venturing into them that brought the disease into the cities and towns. Man also brings his diseases into the forests and to the native Indians. Thousands of native indigenous people have died from flu, measles and colds.

After reading the above, you may think that there weren't any forests left, yet because of continued pressure and the efforts of many, a small percentage remain. With your support for the suggestions below, we can save the remaining trees and in doing so, save our Earth.


Resolutions

  • Prevent Companies from buying acres for dollars
    Despite the fact that the decisions are made by governments, people-power can sway a government. Make a big enough noise, and they'll listen. On the Energy side, promote the use of renewable energies for home and transport use.

  • Recycled Paper Ask your company or paper suppliers to switch to paper made from post consumer waste. In the USA, students forced their University to drop Staples as a supplier because they didn't sell recycled paper. With pressure from RAN and grass-roots activists, Staples have announced they will be stocking recycled paper.

  • Better expertise in Land Management
    If farmers were given training in land management, then better use would be made of existing agricultural areas.

  • Sustainable Forestry
    Villagers in one country were given control of their neighbouring forest. As they depended on the forest for their survival, the trees were sustainably felled and sold for money for the village. In this way, the ecosystem was allowed to rejuvenate. Sustainable forestry can work and does work - only buy wood from sustainable sources.

  • Cattle Ranching
    If cattle is used to supply the beef industry, then it should not be on deforested land, whether 10 or 25 years ago. Fast food companies should act responsibly and should prove that they do just this.




As this document is a work in progress, we welcome your comments and suggestions to improve and update this page.




Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011

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