Some time ago, scientists determined the undeniable environmental value of not just rainforests, but also of temperate, cloud and coniferous forests. The critically important, ecological role of our world's forest ecosystems is no longer a secret. The primary biological function of these ecosystems is to undergo the biochemical pathway of photosynthesis which uses water drawn up through the roots, and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, to produce oxygen (O2). Although this is a simplified explanation for a very complex chemical reaction, this process nonetheless maintains the carbon balance in the atmosphere.
Rainforests are unique when compared with other forest varieties due to their increased biodiversity, and metabolic activity as a result of higher, constant ambient temperatures. These forests geographically hug the planet's equatorial belt and produce their own high levels of moisture. They are inherently self-sustainable when humans are removed from the equation.
The world's largest rainforest ecosystem is the Amazon Basin, where some of the highest levels of biodiversity are found on the planet. In this region, the ecosystem is working over-time with the additional quantities of CO2 being introduced to the atmosphere from around the world as a result of excessive fossil fuel consumption.
Think of fossil fuels as carbon storage stockpiled over millions of years. When they are burned, this stored carbon is returned to the atmosphere resulting in higher concentrations of atmospheric CO2. This equates to a need for more trees to scrub the atmosphere of its additional CO2 levels. Fewer trees will only compound the crisis. Soil also acts as a carbon storage basin, with decomposed plant residues (macro and micro nutrients) being secured for other plants to utilize. Release too much carbon from these storage systems and the atmospheric equilibrium gets blown out of balance.
The Earth has evolved to support life as we know it for eons. Without these vast regions of pleasantly green O2 producing/CO2 consuming organisms, an imbalance in atmospheric composition would inhibit the growth of life forms that require oxygen. Anaerobic organisms which live in the absence of oxygen may fare quite well in these conditions, but how about us? It is therefore essential that rainforests, and all other forest variations, be properly managed so this natural resource is not completely squandered and lost to neglect.
There currently exist some very alarming indications about the Amazon Basin, referred to by scientists as the lungs of the world. Britain's Guardian, states that primarily in the past forty years, one-fifth of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of France, has been eliminated (1). Deforestation rates are measured between August of one year until July of the following year. Peak consumption occurred in 1995-6, and then again in 2003-4. However, according to National Geographic, "Brazil claims that deforestation actually dropped by a significant 25% for the year 2005-6" (2). Records show this to be accurate, and the trend continued for the year 2006-7.
The Brazilian government projected the streak to endure for the year 2007-8. Contrary to that prognosis, though, the Brazilian government confirmed in January that the last five months of 2007 witnessed a sharp rise in deforestation which outpaced any previous increases for that time of year (3). Deforestation in the region appears to be moving in opposition to the desired direction, once again.
What are the factors contributing to the rise of deforestation in Brazil? For one, escalating commodity prices in soy beans is luring farmers to illegally clear more land for only a handful of years of productive cultivation before the soil is leeched dry of nutrients and abandoned as wasteland. What a nauseating depletion of such a beautiful gem.
Experts agree that this, however, does not provide the greatest impact. The worst offenders are the logging industry which has been mismanaged, while illegal logging has been inadequately enforced. Along with that comes clearing for large cattle enterprises, road development and poor project planning on the part of organizations like the World Bank. An emergency meeting was held by Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, earlier this spring to address the current crisis. Whether or not that will have any beneficial effects, though, has yet to be seen.
Considering our dependence on a balanced atmosphere which provides humans and other animals with enough oxygen required to survive, perhaps a temporary ban on all logging in the Amazon Basin should be implemented until an effective and sustainable management strategy is proposed? Although it is a rational idea, it also has its short comings as the greatest obstacle to a temporary logging ban would be its enforcement. The paradox is that enforcement, while not having thus far been effective or efficient without a ban, would likely concede to additional failure under a ban. It is quite a conundrum.
The one-track mindset of business, which focuses on profit, is certainly a hindrance when it comes to convincing industry members to assume even a temporary loss in the name of the environment. While at the same time, coercing an already impoverished farmer to seek economically advantageous alternatives that may not be available is equally as difficult. Logging in this region, among others on the planet, is a sensitive issue. Yet, while sustainable solutions are evasive, their immediate creation is imperative.
Confronting the most problematic offenders such as logging, agriculture and livestock industries, along with financial institutions, would be the second logical step if an enforced ban were implemented. A summit could be held with regional political and business leaders, along with affected community members, to dissect the problem and propose sustainable solutions.
Forests are comprised of trees which are a highly renewable resource, and new solutions should account for this. Proper management of this resource is all that is needed to resolve the problem of deforestation. An excellent read on the topic by Patrick Moore of British Columbia, is Greenspirit: Trees are the answer.
But until either of these measures is taken, the Amazon Basin and other receding forests, along with their biodiversity, will continue to be subject to limitless exploitation at the price of the environment, and eventually humanity. In E.O. Wilson's, The Diversity of Life, he put forth the following question: How much force does it take to break the crucible of evolution? If sustainable solutions for deforestation are not quickly brought to the drawing board, we may discover the answer to Dr. Wilson's question sooner than we care to know.