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Making up about 20 percent of total emissions, deforestation is one of the biggest causes of global greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil is losing much of its forests because of the need to make room for cattle and soybeans. These two factors are the biggest reasons for Brazil’s deforestation problem. The public and the government have been working to stop the spread of deforestation in vulnerable places like Brazil, but more work needs to be done to prepare for the future growth of the world.
Deforestation is not a recent phenomenon, but one that has been occurring for centuries. All throughout our history people have been clearing forests to make room for private land, agriculture, and cities. Michael Williams claims in his article about the history of deforestation, it is possible that 90 percent of deforestation happened before 1950 (Williams 2001). There are many causes of deforestation including slash and burn agriculture, wildfires, both legal and illegal logging operations, and cattle overgrazing. However, the biggest factor that causes deforestation is agriculture. The reasons for deforestation vary depending on where it occurs. In South America, the need to create room for cattle to roam as well as for fields to grow soybeans are the primary causes of deforestation. In Southeast Asia products such as paper and palm oil are the causes of deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists 2011).
Cattle ranching is the main reason for deforestation in the forests of the Amazon (Greenpeace-Brazil 2009). From 2000-2016, 18.9 million hectares of the Amazon forest were deforested (INPE 2007). The Brazilian state of Mato Grosso has the largest amount of cattle in Brazil, and the highest average deforestation rates in the country (Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology 2006). The global demand for meat products is what pushes places like Mato Grosso to tear down the forests in the Amazon in order to make more room for cattle. As the population continues to grow, so does our need for more food and land which in turn suggests the issue of deforestation is likely to continue on into the future.
Along with cattle ranching, soybean farming is the other large agricultural contributor to deforestation in Brazil. Soybean meal is a product derived from the soy crop and is used primarily for feeding livestock. The need for more land for soybeans started in the late 1990s and is continuing today. In 1990 only 9.7 million hectares of land in the Amazon were used for soybean farming. That number nearly triple, reaching 24.2 million hectares of land in 2010 (Union of Concerned Scientists 2011). As the deforestation rates in Brazil began to peak in the early 2000s, it was found that clearing land for soybean farming was responsible for about one fourth of all the deforestation in Brazil (Morton et al. 2006).
Deforestation has many different effects on the environment such as increased CO2 emissions, habitat loss, and biodiversity. Biodiversity loss is one of the issues that come along with deforestation. Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive director of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, stated in a news conference that almost 80 percent of Earth’s biodiversity is located in the forests (Mogato 2008). When forests are destroyed animal species are forced to either move to a new area or are killed in the process of deforestation. As well as harming animals, deforestation also hurts the plant community. Along with the obvious destruction of trees, smaller plants and grasses are also removed. The type of vegetation that then replaces the deforested area can affect surface temperature. If little vegetation occurs or the replacement vegetation does not have adequate access to water, surface temperatures can increase (IPCC 2007). The deforestation of tropical forests could also contribute to the Amazon’s dry season becoming longer (Fu & Li 2004).
Combustions of fossil fuels are known to be the biggest cause of climate change. Fossil fuel use accounts for about 75 percent of the CO2 in the atmosphere that is caused by humans. Deforestation makes up about 20 percent of that remaining quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC 2007). The lack of trees creates an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere that is not absorbed by the forests and instead, traps the sun's radiation. This, in turn, eventually leads to global warming (IPCC 2007).
Legislation and laws about deforestation exist, but many places do not strictly enforce them. However, as deforestation is becoming more well known to the public, multinational companies, governments, and private institutions have been changing how the way they act on the issue. In 2006 Greenpeace released a report entitled Eating Up the Amazon. This work inked soybean farming to deforestation and global warming. The report targeted McDonald's and Cargill, a grain exporter. Both companies later issued statements saying they would only purchase soy from producers who were following the Brazilian Forest Code (Union of Concerned Scientists 2011). The Brazilian Forest Code is a piece of legislation which states that forest landowners must keep 80 percent of their forests as legal reserves (WWF).
The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries and the National Association of Cereal Exporters are two associations that have members who are soybean farmers and processors in Brazil. They both announced a temporary prohibition on deforestation which stated that members of both groups were not allowed to buy soybeans produced on land that had been deforested after June 2006 (Union of Concerned Scientists 2011). This prohibition has lasted for 10 years and continues to exist to this day (Adario 2016). This prohibition did work in stopping the spread of deforestation related to soybeans. It was found that only 0.25 percent of land containing soybeans had been planted in the areas of deforestation and that 0.25 percent only made up 0.04 percent of the total land in Brazil that had soybeans planted (Rudorff et al. 2011).
Other plans of action have been laid out to help fight deforestation in Brazil. In 2015 Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and former U.S. President Barack Obama debuted their plans for fighting climate change. These plans included Brazil’s promise to restore 12 million hectares of forest by 2030, as well as plans to work harder to stop illegal deforestation. Many see this as a step in the right direction, however, many people also believe this plan will not do enough to combat the problem (Canby 2015).
Brazil’s legislation and efforts to stop deforestation is a step in the right direction, but there is also the opportunity for consumers to help stop deforestation. One way to do this is for consumers to boycott companies that participate in deforestation or not buy soybeans from approved sellers. Another way is to cut down on eating meat which requires room for cattle to graze as well as soybean meal. Moving to a more environmentally friendly diet can help stop the trend of deforestation of land for livestock.
The issue of deforestation has recently become more popular due to global concern over climate change. Although soybean farming and cattle ranching are still very large in Brazil, deforestation rates have been dropping thanks to increased pressure from both the government and the public. However, our population is estimated to rapidly increase in the next few decades, reaching a total of 9.7 billion people on Earth by 2050 (UN DESA 2015). The world as a whole will have to figure out a plan to prevent future deforestation in Brazil as well as the rest of the world.
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Adario, Paulo. "The Soy Moratorium, 10 years on: How one commitment is stopping Amazon destruction." Greenpeace International. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/the-soy-moratorium-10-year-anniversary-stopping-amazon-destruction/blog/57127/.
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Li, W.H. and R. Fu, 2004: Transition of the large-scale atmosphere and land surface conditions from dry to wet season over Amazon. J. Climate, 17, 2637-2651.
Mogato, Manny. "U.N. calls on Asian nations to end deforestation." Reuters. June 20, 2008. Accessed April 20, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-biodiversity-idUSMAN18800220080620.
Morton, D.C., R.S. DeFries, Y.E. Shimabukuro, L.O. Anderson, E. Arai, F. del Bon Espirito-Santo, R. Freitas, and J. Morisette. 2006. Cropland expansion changes deforestation dynamics in the southern Brazilian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103: 14637-14641.
Rudorff, B.F.T., M. Adami, D.A. Aguilar, M.A. Moreira, M.P. Mello, L. Fabiani, D.F. Amaral, and B.M. Pires. 2011. The soy moratorium in the Amazon biome monitored by remote sensing images.
"Soy, you & deforestation." WWF. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/soy/consumers/.
"World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs." United Nations. July 29, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2017. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html.
"What's Driving Tropical Deforestation Today? (2011)." Union of Concerned Scientists. June 01, 2011. Accessed April 20, 2017. http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/stop-deforestation/drivers-of-deforestation.html#.WQBO2Inyub8.
Williams, Michael. "The History of Deforestation." History Today 51, no. 7 (July 2001).