Tag Archives: deforestation

The Amazon is facing its tipping point, scientists warn

Reaching most headlines this year because of a set of forest fires, the Amazon in South America represents more than half of the remaining rainforest and is one of the most biodiverse places of the world. Nevertheless, the region is already close to its tipping point, researchers warned.

The Amazon has its own hydrological cycle through which rainforest trees regulate evaporation, transpiration, and rainfall in the region. Nevertheless, as tree cover is loss, droughts are intensified. For the rainforest, not getting enough rain means trees die off and transform into a form of savanna or shrubland.

Climate scientist Carlos Nobre and conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy in a new science policy editorial warned the Amazon is on a self-destruct mode, dealing with the consequences of growing deforestation and the effects of climate change in recent years.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon,” they wrote in Science Advances. “We are scientists who have been studying the Amazon and all its wondrous assets for many decades. Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.”

For the researchers, the solution to the changes currently experienced in the region is an ambitious reforestation program, improving the quality of life in most Amazonian cities and the development of a bio-economy based on the forest. Plus leaving behind the current drive for agriculture and cattle driving deforestation.

Previous predictions of the Amazon tipping point were mainly based on climate models developed through mathematics. But now there are real-life manifestations of the changes happening in the Amazon, which led researchers to believe that there are signs of a tipping point happening on the ground and the atmosphere.

A study by NASA in October recorded a growingly dry Amazon via satellite. Also, in 2018, a study that combined the findings of 103 researchers showed that tree species that were adapted to a wet climate were dying at a record rate, while species adapted to dry weather were thriving.

Moving from a rainforest to a savanna has severe consequences for the Amazon, according to Lovejoy and Nobre. It would mean the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a change in the natural water cycle, likely affecting Brazilian aquifers, and a sudden effect on biodiversity.

Biomes like Amazon have been subject to changes in the past. But the problem here is how sudden the move is and the consequences it brings for species and biodiversity in general. Without further action, researchers warn, the shift to a savanna will happen in just a few decades.

Despite the scenario they describe, Lovejoy and Nobre agree there’s still a way forward. “The peoples and leaders of the Amazon countries together have the power, the science, and the tools to avoid a continental-scale, indeed, a global environmental disaster. Together, we need the will and imagination to tip the direction of change in favor of a sustainable Amazon”.

In 2019, Brazil cut down twice as much of the Amazon as it did in the previous year

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon forest has risen by 104% compared to November of 2018, according to data released by Brazil‘s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) on Saturday.

Image credits Rosina Kaiser.

All in all, some 563 square kilometers (217 square miles) of forest were cut down in November, the largest area ever felled since November of 2015. It’s not only the sheer scale of deforestation that’s worrying, but also that it took part during the rainy season — when, traditionally, deforestation efforts slowed down.

A terrible toll

INPE’s report explains that between January and November of this year — which were the first 11 months in office for Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has eased restrictions on exploiting the Amazon — a total of 8,973.3 square kilometers (3464.6 sq mi) of the forest have been cut down.

That is almost double the total recorded over the first 11 months of 2018 (4,878.7 sq km).

The data was recorded by the DETER (Detecção de Desmatamento em Tempo Real), a satellite-based real-time deforestation detection system employed by INPE. The system uses data from the MODIS sensor aboard the Terra and Aqua NASA satellites. The system is mostly used as an indicator of the rate of deforestation but does not represent the whole area cut down, which is measured by the PRODES project.

According to PRODES readings — the system is more reliable but slower to compile data than DETER — between August 2018 and August 2019, the total deforested area in the Brazilian Amazon exceeded the 10,000 square kilometer threshold for the first time since 2008. It would represent a 43% increase over the preceding 12 month period (when the total was 7,033 sq km).

Areas of the Amazon that see indigenous habitation have experienced some of the fastest-rising rates of deforestation (74.5%) over the preceding period, INPE adds.

Ricardo Galvao, INPE’s former president, was sacked by the Bolsonaro government in early August under accusations of exaggerating the report on deforestation. On Friday, Galvao was named one of the 10 most important scientists of the year by the journal Nature.

The full report (link in Portuguese) can be read here.

Deforestation caused three times the natural average of fires in the Amazon

The fires that raged across the Bazilian Amazon were far from normal, despite what the local government would have you believe.

Satellite image of the Amazon on fire, taken by MODIS between 15-22 August 2019.
Image credits by Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory.

While the Amazon fires made headlines across the world, and galvanized public outrage and activism this summer, the Brazilian Government claimed that they were ‘normal’ for August and ‘below the historical average’. A new study shows that this is, basically, an outright lie — and that government-backed deforestation could be the cause.

According to the findings, the number of active Amazon fires in August was three times higher than in 2018, and the highest number seen since 2010.

Ample blaze

“The marked upturn in both active fire counts and deforestation in 2019 therefore refutes suggestions by the Brazilian Government that August 2019 was a normal fire month in the Amazon,” says Professor Jos Barlow, lead author of the paper.

The team reports that, although fires in the Amazon can start in a number of ways, they found strong evidence in support of deforestation fostering the 2019 fires. The researchers used data collected from the Brazilian Government’s DETER-b deforestation detection system, which calculates deforestation by interpreting images taken by NASA satellites.

In July of 2019, the Brazilian Amazon saw four times as much deforestation by area as the average for the same period over the previous three years. The team explains that deforestation is almost always followed by fires, as cut vegetation is left to dry before being burned.

“Brazil has for the past decade been an environmental leader, showing to the world that it can successfully reduce deforestation. It is both economically and environmentally unwise to revert this trend,” adds Professor Barlow.

The link between deforestation and fires is strengthened by the fact that the August fires occurred in a period without a serious drought, which foster wildfires. The team further explains that the tall smoke plumes released by the fires strongly indicate that they were generated by large quantities of burning biomass. As the Amazon rainforest is a very wet environment, this strongly points to cut-and-dried plants as their likely fuel.

By September, the team writes, the number of active fires decreased by 35%. Although President Bolsonaro instituted a two-month moratoria on fires prior to this drop, the team is unsure whether the decline was due to the decision itself or due to heavy rains that occurred in that period. Still, the number of fires alone doesn’t accurately capture the full extent of the damage; the team explains that while the number of fires was counted, their extent was not.

“Our paper clearly shows that without tackling deforestation, we will continue to see the largest rainforest in the world being turned to ashes. We must curb deforestation,” says Dr Erika Berenguer, a co-author of the study.

The paper “Clarifying Amazonia’s burning crisis” has been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Deforestation reaches highest level in a decade in the Brazilian Amazon

Following record forest fires that shocked the world, Brazil is again in the spotlight as deforestation in the Amazon reached the highest annual level in a decade — putting more pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen by many as a supporter of the deforestation.

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Almost 10,000 square kilometers of forest were lost in the year to August, which represents a hike of almost 30% from the previous year, according to Brazil’s space agency INPE.

This is the fastest deforestation rate the country has seen since 2008. It’s the equivalent to clearing two football pitches of forest per minute, according to INPE’s — the National Institute for Space Research, a research unit of the Brazilian Ministry of Science. The data was compiled with information from Prodes satellite system, which have produced annual deforestation rates for the region since 1988.

Reacting to the news, Adriana Ramos from the Socio-Environmental Institute, told The Guardian that the current administration is to blame for these changes:

“It is no surprise this is happening because the president has defended environmental crime and promoted impunity. The government weakened environmental protection, supported loggers and encouraged land-grabbing.”

Meanwhile, the NGO Climate Observatory said the increase in deforestation was the third most important experienced by Brazil, after the ones seen in 1995 and 1998, adding the growing clearing of forest is likely to continue.

“Proposals like legalizing land-grabbing, mining and farming on indigenous lands, as well as reducing the licensing requirements for new infrastructure will show that the coming years will be even worse,” Carlos Rittl, Climate Observatory executive secretary, told The Guardian.

The growing deforestation rates go completely against Brazil’s climate change pledges and its commitment to the Paris Agreement. On its contribution, Brazil vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, in comparison to 2005 levels.

Currently, Brazil is not in line with the Paris Agreement goals of avoiding a temperature increase of more than two Celsius degrees, according to Climate Tracker (CAT) analysis. CAT has questioned Bolsonaro’s lack of climate policies, which have encouraged deforestation, lending more support to the idea that the current administration is at least partly to blame for the deforestation.

Back in August, Brazil declared a state of emergency due to a record number of forest fires in the Amazon region. Almost 73,000 fires were detected, which represented the highest number since 2013 and an increase of 83% from 2018. Those fires were directly connected to Brazil’s meat industry, as the ranchers tried to burn down patches of the forest to make way for soy plantations meant to feed livestock.

This is an important matter not just for Brazil, but for the entire planet. The Amazon rainforest plays a significant role in regulating the climate of the world, generating a large amount of oxygen and storing a very large amount of carbon.

A unique tree could help soils remain fertile in the Amazon

Subject to growing wildfires and deforestation, the Amazon has been recently challenged in Brazil and Bolivia. But there’s a ray of hope, as researchers are encouraging farmers to plant a tree species that could keep the soil fertile.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The inga tree, known as the ice cream bean three, can grow on the very poor soil left by destructive slash and burn land clearing and also improve the soil, making it fertile enough for other species to return.

The tree fixes nitrogen into the soil, a key nutrient for plants. Then, its beans can be sold by farmers, leaves from the trees can be fed to cattle, and they can be coppiced to create firewood – giving people several reasons to invest in growing them.

The Ouro Verde Institute in Brazil is behind an initiative designed to support farmers wishing to plant inga trees, aiming to prove that farmers can expect to get an income from the species – which is a type of legume.

Toby Pennington, a professor of tropical plant diversity and biogeography at the University of Exeter, told the BBC: “Even amongst legumes, they have pretty fantastic growth rates. If you had a cup of coffee this morning that came from Latin America, the odds are that it was growing underneath one of these inga trees.”

The ecosystems that thrive below the branches of the trees are also an important factor for boosting ecological diversity and assisting growers with the means of making even greater financial returns. Greater coverage of land where ingas are grown could also provide vital corridors for wildlife in the Amazon.

However, attempts to re-green areas of the Amazon needs to occur at the same time as stopping the destruction of the rainforest. Fires in the Amazon have increased by 84% since the same period last year, according to satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

In June, the institute published data showing an 88% increase in deforestation in the Amazon compared to the same month a year ago. The data release led to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro accusing the director of the National Institute for Space Research of lying, which apparently led to him being fired.

The Amazon rainforest has long been recognized as a repository of ecological services not only for local tribes and communities but also for the rest of the world. It is also the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.

Change diets to save the tropical forests, researchers say

If the consumption of meat and dairy doesn’t fall, at least one-quarter of the world’s tropical lands could disappear by the end of the century, according to new research which studied the impacts of consumption trends on biodiverse regions across the globe.

Credit: Flickr

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology estimate that large swathes of natural land could potentially vanish if the demand for animal products continues to grow. The study was published in the Global Environmental Change journal.

About 9% of natural land — 95% of which is in the tropics — could go within 80 years unless global dietary habits change, the scientists said, looking at consumption and agriculture patterns.

“Reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health. It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world’s growing population is fed. Changing our diets will lead to a more sustainable future and complement food security goals while addressing global food inequalities,” lead author Dr Roslyn Henry said.

As incomes increase across the globe, consumption has shifted from staples such as starchy roots and pulses to meat, milk, and refined sugars. Meat and dairy products are associated with higher land and water use and higher greenhouse gas emissions than any other foods.

By replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives, the researchers predict that the global demand for agricultural land could be reduced by 11%. Industrial feed systems also reduce agricultural expansion but may increase environmental degradation due to agricultural pollutants such as fertilizer, they said.

The study comes only a week after a report on land use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which identified reducing meat consumption and changing diets to plant-based as an important focus for climate change mitigation.

Tobacco industry’s carbon footprint mirrors entire countries — cost of cigarettes should reflect the environmental damage, WHO says

Credit: Pixabay.

Cigarettes prices have surged in developed countries, in order to reflect their cost on national healthcare systems, as well to provide a financial disincentive for smokers to quit. But although some consumers might object, the price of a cigarette pack is still too cheap considering its environmental costs. According to a new World Health Organization (WHO) study, the tobacco industry emits as much carbon emissions as much as some entire countries, and cause massive damage to ecosystems.

Although the percentage of people who smoke has been declining in many parts of the world, due to massive population increase there are now more smokers than ever before, in absolute numbers. Overall, 933 million people smoked every day in 2015, 80% of which are men.

To meet this demand, six trillion cigarettes are manufactured each year — that’s a lot of tobacco. According to the WHO, about 5% of deforestation in parts of Asia and Africa is performed to make room for tobacco farms. About 20,000 square miles of land is taken up by tobacco farms, which use more than 22 billion tonnes of water, the report says. This makes cigarette production more environmentally costly than that of essential commodities such as food, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control found.

A person smoking a pack a day for 50 years is responsible for 1.4 million litres of water depletion

The industry is thus exploiting the fact that many developing and lower-income countries have weaker regulations, which allows them to shift the environmental and social burden overseas while reaping profits in their home countries. If you smoke cigarettes bought in a rich country, such as the UK or the United States, you’re likely smoking at the expense of other countries’ national health and natural resources. Almost 90% of all tobacco grown in the world is sourced from developing countries.

According to the report, tobacco companies severely underreport carbon emissions that are significantly lower than those tallied by scientists working on the WHO study.

Researchers found that tobacco is responsible for emitting 84 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to around 0.2% of the global total. While that might not seem like a lot, that’s as much as Peru or Israel.

The cultivation of 32.4 Mt of green tobacco used for the production of 6.48 Mt of dry tobacco in the six trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide in 2014, were shown to contribute almost 84 Mt CO2 equiv emissions to climate change. Credit: Environmental Science and Technoloy.

The cultivation of 32.4 Mt of green tobacco used for the production of 6.48 Mt of dry tobacco in the six trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide in 2014, were shown to contribute almost 84 Mt CO2 equivalent emissions to climate change. Credit: Environmental Science and Technology.

The report compared the impact of tobacco against other crops that typically require fewer inputs. In Zimbabwe, for instance, a hectare of land could produce 19 times more potatoes than the 1–1.2 tonnes of tobacco currently cultivated.

Tobacco also hurts the environment by depleting the soil of nutrients and spraying it with pesticides. Socially, tobacco production is also associated with child labor and other human rights problems. There’s something to be said about the pollution with cigarette butts, two-thirds of which are discarded irresponsibly. According to NBC News, cigarette butts represent the single greatest source of ocean pollution — surpassing plastic straws.

Despite the tobacco industry’s best efforts to undermine this fact, today there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that cigarettes are extremely bad for our health. Along with alcohol, tobacco products represent the biggest health to human health — more so than illegal drugs. Not many people, however, are aware of the hidden environmental costs of cigarettes and the industry that underpin their production.

The WHO urges governments to respond by increasing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. These taxes should take into account the damage to the local ecosystems and the climate. The report also recommends banning single-use filters used for rolling tobacco or the use of unnecessary packaging.

Sunrise jungle Indonesia.

Hard-pressed by humans, rainforests lost their ability to act as carbon sinks

Rainforests are too degraded to act as carbon sinks any longer, a new paper reports. Averaged across the globe, rainforests now have a positive output of greenhouse gases, prompting the authors to call for urgent conservation efforts that will allow rainforests to re-don the mantle of carbon sinks.

Sunrise jungle Indonesia.

Image via Pixabay.

The team, composed of scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University, took a different approach in assessing the health of rainforests. Unlike previous research, which generally focused on deforestation (complete removal of the forests), they worked to account for more subtle changes in the form of disturbance and degradation, both natural and anthropic. These changes include small-scale tree mortality or removal, or forest gains through natural or human-assisted growth.

Sadly, they report that when taking such changes in forest density into account, tropical forests lose their ability to act as net carbon sinks, meaning they emit more carbon that they can capture.

Net producers

The study quantified changes in aboveground forest carbon across tropical America, Africa, and Asia. These areas were selected as the sheer scale of their rainforests provide the greatest ability to act as carbon stores. They’re also the most biodiverse places on the planet, providing a wealth of ecosystem services such as food, fuel, and materials to millions of people — meaning they see a lot of human activity.

The team used 12 years’ worth of satellite imagery (taken between 2003-2014), laser remote sensing technology, and measurements taken in the field to calculate losses in forest carbon from flat-out deforestation as well as the more subtle and fine-grain degradation and disturbance processes, which have previously remained unaccounted-for over large swaths of rainforest. Their findings point to a worrying, death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario playing out in Earth’s richest ecosystems.

Overall, tropical regions have become a net source of atmospheric carbon, they report. Forests saw an increase in capture power of roughly 437 teragrams of carbon annually (expressed as ‘carbon gains’), but losses amounted to a whopping 862 teragrams — meaning rainforests contribute a roughly 425 teragrams of atmospheric CO2 yearly. Each teragram is equivalent to one trillion grams, one million metric tons, or 1.102.331 short tons. To put that number into context, China and the US emitted some 10,600, respectively 5,100 teragrams of CO2 in 2015 (29.5% and 14.3% of world emissions).

“Gains result from forest growth; losses result from deforestation and from reductions in carbon density within standing forests (degradation/disturbance), with the latter accounting for 68.9% of overall losses,” the team writes.

“In many cases throughout the tropics you have selective logging, or smallholder farmers removing individual trees for fuel wood. These losses can be relatively small in any one place, but added up across large areas they become considerable,” said WHRC scientist Wayne Walker, one of the paper’s coauthors.

Losses and gains aren’t evenly distributed, however. On a by-continent basis, the majority of losses occurred in Latin America (some 60% of loss), in the Amazon forest. Some 24% of loss was seen in Africa, and Asia experienced the least share of total losses, with a little over 16%. Degradation and disturbance were responsible for the lion’s share of continental losses in both the Americas (70% of losses) and Africa (81%), but under half (46%) in Asia. Gains were also predominantly centered in the Americas with nearly 43% of total gains, followed by Africa with 30%, and lastly Asia with 26%.

Such results are worrying, especially at a time when governments around the world are scrambling to meet their commitments to the Paris Agreement and curb climate change. The authors note that ending deforestation, degradation, and disturbance in the tropics and allowing the ecosystem to regrow would cut at least 862 teragrams of carbon per year, some 8% of global emissions. The UN already has a project set in place to help preserve natural carbon sinks — the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which offers incentives for countries to maintain forests intact. However, it depends on regular access to accurate measurements of incremental gains and losses in forest carbon density, and research such as this one will give us a better understanding of how forests function.

“These findings provide the world with a wakeup call on forests,” said WHRC scientist Alessandro Baccini, the paper’s lead author. “If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon.”

“Forests are the only carbon capture and storage ‘technology’ we have in our grasp that is safe, proven, inexpensive, immediately available at scale, and capable of providing beneficial ripple effects — from regulating rainfall patterns to providing livelihoods to indigenous communities.”

The paper “Tropical forests are a net carbon source based on aboveground measurements of gain and loss” has been published in the journal Science.

Pakistan just planted one billion trees to tackle deforestation and climate change

While the US president complains that his country is being treated unfairly and others aren’t pulling their weight, others are in fact pulling their weight. In less than two years, a province in Pakistan just planted 1 billion trees.

Pakistani provincial leader Imran Khan started the Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project in 2015 and it now reached fruition. In less than two years, 1,000,000,000 trees were planted, even faster than anticipated (by the end of 2017). This is just one province in one country.

You don’t even need to care for the environment to understand why this is a good idea — it’s not just that they store CO2, trees provide a whopping number of environmental services. They regulate water regimes by intercepting rainfall and regulating its flow through the hydrological system. They maintain and ensure soil quality, preventing erosion, and they’re key components in a wide array of ecosystems.

“If you plant trees, we have discovered, by the river banks it sustains the rivers. But most importantly, the glaciers that are melting in the mountains, and one of the biggest reasons is because there has been a massive deforestation. So, this billion tree is very significant for our future,” Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told Voice of America.

We’re also dealing with a deforestation planetary crisis. According to the World Bank data, the planet has lost 1.3 million square kilometers of forests since 1990. This is why the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) set up the Bonn Challenge in 2011. The Bonn Challenge calls for the global restoration of 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. So far, less than 30 countries have signed up to the challenge, but even so, there are reasons for optimism. This milestone achieved in Pakistan is one of them, one which will inspire others, Inger Anderson, director general of the IUCN says.

“IUCN congratulates the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [where the trees were planted] on reaching this momentous milestone,” Anderson said. “The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge.”

Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, Pakistan. Image via VOA.

Pakistan is one of the countries experiencing the most deforestation, and also one of the most at risk of global warming. Decades and decades of deforestation have cleared the country to the point where only 3% of it is covered by forests. Nowadays, the government in the north-western region has banned the cutting and felling of most trees in the area, but the so-called “timber mafia” still operates around the region, illegally destroying trees and forests. While enforcing the law is still problematic, projects such as this one could determine the local communities to play a more active role. Up until now, this is exactly what they’ve been doing.

“But we could not have done it if the local communities were not involved,” Khan said. “The local communities first grew the nurseries and then amongst them people who then protected the trees, the saplings when they were planted. It is one of the most successful experiments ever, and we have 85 percent survival rate.”

In order to ensure the success of this story, over 13,000 small-scale nurseries, producing up to 25,000 saplings each, have been involved in the project. The provincial government offered a cash advanced and a guaranteed purchase after the trees mature. Several species were planted, including pines, walnuts, and eucalyptus, officials say. The estimated cost of this project was $123 million, but it’s not just the trees — the project also generated green jobs, and empowered unemployed youth and women in the province. Given its success, it’s been decided that an additional $100 million will be allocated to maintain the project through June 2020. This will ensure even more environmental services and benefits for the locals, the entire country, and the entire world.

“If the trend continues, there will be more birds, there will be more microbes, there will be more insects, so there will be more animals, so more habitats. The ecosystem will kind of literally revive in certain places. There will be more rains because we do need rains,” Hamaad Khan Naqi, WWF-Pakistan’s director general, told VOA.

Bad beef: Despite pledge, Burger King continues to cause massive deforestation

Does this look like a bunch of food for you? If you answered ‘yes,’ then you might want to read on. Image via UCS.

If you’re like most people in the world, reducing beef and pork consumption is the single most environmentally friendly decision you can make. Few other commodities (let alone foods) come with such a strong environmental footprint, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and terrain usage.

Oh, meat companies — especially the big guns — will tell you otherwise. They’ll tell you what a big effort they’re doing, and how sustainable and green their products are. Take Burger King for instance. They pledged to completely stop deforestation by 2030, but recent reports show that their deforestation is in no way slowing down.


Greenwashing is a term we’d best familiarize ourselves with as soon as possible because it’s incredibly prevalent in today’s world. Greenwashing is when a company uses deceiving PR and advertising to boast about how environmentally-friendly it is, but in reality, it’s really not. Take Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, who talks a lot about adapting to climate change, but spends millions and millions funding climate change deniers, and carries on with its usual operations.

Burger King pledged to greatly reduce its deforestation practices, to a great extent due to “peer pressure” — McDonald’s had already done it, as did Walmart. Not wanting to be left behind, Walmart also promised to reduce deforestation. Promises are free, right?

“The pledge from Burger King to stop deforestation by 2030 is simply absurd and not acceptable,” Lars Lovold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, told DW.

But from the get-go, things weren’t looking good. A 2016 UCS study gave Burger King’s efforts a 0 out of 100. None of the analyzed companies got a good or better rating, though McDonald’s scored 48, and Mars Inc scored 37. Aside from Burger King, Pizza Hut also got a 0.

Rainforest Rescue campaigner Mathias Rittgerott also bashed Burger King’s initiatives as mere baseless PR.

“Burger King has felt the pressure from other companies and wants to get out of the black list,” Rittgerott told DW.

In March, data gathered from satellites and drones as well as field research showed that around 700,000 hectares (1,729,738 acres) of forest were wiped out between 2011 and 2015, affecting jaguars, giant anteaters, and sloths, among many other creatures. Local indigenous populations also suffered and in some cases were forced to completely relocate.

Though cattle production is distributed widely around the globe, its deforestation impact has been particularly high in South America, with Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia all experiencing high levels of cattle-driven deforestation. Source: Map made with the Livestock Geo-Wiki, using data from Robinson et al. 2014. Credits: UCS.

Soybean is one of the main causes of deforestation, globally. Soy is mostly used to feed livestock, with only 6% of soybeans grown worldwide ending up as human food, and 70-75% of it ending up as livestock. The rest is mostly used for biofuels.

All of this for a steak

Already, more than half of the Brazilian savannah — the Cerrado — has been deforested, most of it to support livestock agriculture. Beef production is by far the leading cause of tropical deforestation, and it’s not like you can just eat European cows and think you’ve helped fight deforestation — those cows have likely been fed with soy from deforested tropical areas.

The outsized deforestation impact of beef produced in the tropics looks even bigger on a per-calorie basis. Source: Persson et al. 2014, Figure 3a.

Just look at Buge and Cargill, two of the world’s largest soy producers. Together, they were responsible for the loss of the 700,000 hectares referenced above and they’re also not living up to their commitments.

All this inefficiency in beef production is evident in its price. Pound per pound, beef is, on average, 4 times more expensive than poultry and 17 times more expensive than wheat. In terms of environmental damage, the impact of beef ranges from 6 to 34 times that of pork, poultry, dairy, and plant-based foods. It also requires more land than all these foods.

This is why beef is an extremely serious environmental problem, but also an opportunity because reducing beef consumption can make such a big difference.

It’s up to us

The companies here have little direct incentive to change their practices. What does Burger King care about deforestation? Why should they care if animals and humans suffer, why should they give a damn about greenhouse gas emissions? Unfortunately, without strict policies (which is highly unlikely at this point), they just don’t. So it’s up to us, the consumers, to start making a difference.

As consumers, we have a lot of power to persuade companies to become more moral. We should exercise it. Image via Wikipedia.

We have the most power to force action, by hitting companies where it hurts the most: in their pockets. The decision to not buy from immoral companies is one that we can all make, and it can go a very long way.

Thankfully, we have access to unprecedented product variation. Just go to any supermarket or any mall, you’ll find dozens if not hundreds of similar products. Stay informed, look deeper than the press statements, and understand what companies are actually trying to reduce their negative impact, and what companies are just greenwashing.

It’s a great power that we, the consumers have, and it’s one that we don’t exercise as often as we should. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility — so when you’re buying beef or a burger, just spend a moment and consider what you’re actually supporting. You might end up making a better choice.

amazon rainforest

Half of Amazon rainforest tree species threatened by deforestation

The Amazon basin is home to the world’s greatest biodiversity. You’ll find more plant and animal species per square foot than anywhere else in the world. It’s truly one of the wildest and life teeming places in the universe, which given humans’ habit of meddling makes it one of the most vulnerable as well. The huge 6-million-square-kilometer rainforest area remains mostly unstudied, due to the roughness and inaccessibility of the land. But making their way through the outskirts are the chainsaws and sawmills; and they’re moving fast. Since 2000 an area equal to 50 football pitches has been destroyed every minute in the Amazon rainforest, satellite imagery revealed.

amazon rainforest

The environmental consequences are stark. The Amazon rainforest acts like a huge carbon sink, and destroying it will cause more carbon emissions to stay in the atmosphere, further warming the planet. Loss of habitat will force many species of animals into extinction, but also tree species themselves. Scientists estimate that there are between 11,000 and 15,000 tree species in the Amazon and deforestation could threatened more than half of them, according to massive field study which involved  160 botanists, ecologists, and taxonomists from 97 institutions.

Researchers surveyed 1,485 sites in the Amazon basin and identified  4,953 tree species. Using a biodiversity model, the researchers inferred that there must be another 10,000 tree species, especially towards the isolated center where few humans reside, but vegetation is very dense. The maps were then compared to deforestation maps to assess how tree species might be threatened under two scenarios: business as usual (deforestation continues unabated at its current pace) and an Amazon friendly scenario, in which government and corporations work together to steadily stop logging.

If the status quo is preserved, 51 percent of the Amazon’s common tree species’ populations and 43 percent of rare tree species’ populations would decline by 30 percent or more. That’s enough for them to be included in the  International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s “Red List” of threatened species. Even under the less severe scenario, 16 percent of common species and 25 percent of rare species will qualify under the ‘Red List’. ‘

“We overlay spatial distribution models with historical and projected deforestation to show that at least 36% and up to 57% of all Amazonian tree species are likely to qualify as globally threatened under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria. If confirmed, these results would increase the number of threatened plant species on Earth by 22%,” the researchers conclude in the study’s abstract.

Remember, the Amazon basin is home to:

  • 1/3 of the world’s species;
  • 1/4 of the world’s freshwater;
  • 1/5 of the world’s forests;
  • 48 billion tons of carbon dioxide in its trees;
  • 200 indigenous and traditional communities.

It’s paradise on Earth, yet we’re destroying the rainforest bit by bit. Luckily, there is hope. Things are changing. In Brazil,  the deforestation rate last year was roughly 75% below the average for 1996 to 2005, thanks to commendable efforts from behalf of the government. Brazil’s experience suggests that humanity has a chance to control agricultural expansion and preserve the planet’s most diverse ecosystems.



An Amazonian tribe is defending their forests from illegal loggers with bow and arrow

Motivated by the love for their native lands and armed with bows, arrows, GPS trackers and camera traps, an indigenous community in northern Brazil is fighting to achieve what officials couldn’t – stop illegal logging in their part of the Amazon.

Honor and survival

The Ka’apor are a distinct ethnic group of indigenous Brazilians living on a protected reserve in the state of Maranhão. They live in a heavily deforested area of Pre-Amazonian forest, but have managed to protect the forest within their designated reserve up until now. The 2,200 people all contribute to the struggle and receive little to no help from authorities.

Logging tractors constantly surround their settlement. Drivers and chainsaw operators are warned never to return, but always do. In 2014, the tribe attacked a group of loggers, tying them up, humiliating them and destroying the cut logs, but ultimately set them free.

It’s a dangerous game they play. Since 2011, when they started their defense operation, the cutting of trees has slowed down, but four tribe members have been murdered, and many more have been threatened by the loggers. The Ka’apor asked the government to protect their borders, which were recognised in 1982 and a federal court ordered the authorities to set up security posts, but nothing happened. Tidiun Ka’apor (who, like all of the leaders of the group, asked to have his name changed to avoid being targeted by loggers) spoke to the Guardian:

“Sometimes, it’s like a film. They fight us with machetes, but we always drive them off,” he says. “We tell them, ‘We’re not like you. We don’t steal your cows so don’t steal our trees.”

The weapons they use are bows and arrows and borduna – a heavy sword-shaped baton. There is only one old, rusty rifle, but more often than not, it all comes down to sheer numbers: the Ka’apor have the numbers, and the motivation. For the loggers, it’s all about the profits. Many sought after trees grow in the area, including ipê (Brazilian walnut), which can fetch almost £1,000 ($1,500) per cubic metre after processing. But for the Ka’apur, it’s about their home, their territory, and something perhaps even more important: their dignity, constantly eroded of two decades of logging. But ultimately, it’s about survival; the forest is their survival, and without the forest, they just can’t survive.

A losing battle?

Another of the group’s leaders, Miraté Ka’apor says the use of violence is justified, but this feels like an arms race they cannot ultimately win.

“The loggers come here to steal from us. So, they deserve what they get. We have to make them feel our loss – the loss of our timber, the destruction of our forest.” Compared with the past, he said the missions were effective. “Our struggle is having results because the loggers respect us now.”

The loggers have threatened to strike back with vengeance and lethal force, and they already have. They’ve threatened tribe members, destroyed their homes, and even killed them. It’s a story that shouldn’t have gotten to here… and that likely won’t end here.

The Guardian has a really lengthy and detailed article, which I really suggest reading. The Ka’apor are looking for seeking support through NGOs and the media. Perhaps media pressure will force local authorities to intervene, and perhaps we could make a difference. It’s a long shot, but who knows.

Devastating photos of the world’s deforestation

Recently, we wrote an article about the biggest tree census ever conducted, and the results were pretty grim. Sure, there are some 3 trillion trees on Earth, but the bad news is that there used to be almost twice as many – before humans chipped in. Humanity has cut down 46% of the planet’s trees, and we’re continuing to do so at an alarming rate. The effects, from loss of biodiversity, to rendering species extinct, to altering the entire planetary climate, are already visible. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here on.

Farming in the Amazon is often done at the cost of forests. Photo by Sam Beebe.

Farming in the Amazon is often done at the cost of forests. Photo by Sam Beebe.

Rice paddies and recently cleared forest land in the Thanon Thong Chai Range, Chiang Mai Province. Image via Wikipedia.

All these lands in Congo used to be thick forests. Image via Wikipedia.

Images like this one are very common in Europe and North America. Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Nation of Change.

The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Sumatra, Indonesia. Again, deforestation for oil palm plantation. Image via Wikipedia.

The once virgin forests of Kosovo are now under threat. Photo by t.hxh.

Deforestation for the use of clay in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The hill depicted is Morro da Covanca, in Jacarepaguá. Image via Wikipedia.

Satellite image of Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic (right) shows the amount of deforestation on the Haitian side. The Haitian government is incapable of ensuring the forests are protected.

Tea plantation in Sri Lanka – used to be forests. Image via Wikipedia.

The Number of Trees has Halved Since Human Civilization Emerged

Today, the Earth has approximately 3 trillion trees left standing – about 422 per person – but we’ve already cut 46% of them.

Branching out


Using a mixture of satellite imagery, forest inventories and supercomputer technologies, an international team led by Yale researchers conducted the biggest survey ever on trees, mapping them globally at a square kilometer level. The researchers also used projected maps of current and historic forest cover, which were provided by the United Nations Environment Programme to see how much tree loss has occurred over time. Their results showed that there are more trees on Earth than was previously estimated, but we’ve still destroyed a big chunk of total trees: almost half. That’s already starting to take its toll.

“We have nearly halved the number of trees on the planet and we have seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result,” said Thomas Crowther, post-doctoral fellow at Yale University’s school of forestry and environmental studies (F&ES) and lead author of the study.

Indeed, we generally take trees as granted, and we often forget just how important their are for the planet – not just in terms of biodiversity, but in terms of climate, soil stability and many others. The environmental services that trees provide are inestimable.

“They store huge amounts of carbon, are essential for the cycling of nutrients, for water and air quality, and for countless human services. Yet you ask people to estimate, within an order of magnitude, how many trees there are and they don’t know where to begin,” he said, adding he was “certainly surprised” to find the estimate was in the trillions. Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth yet we are only recently beginning to comprehend their global extent and distribution,” Crowther added.



Tree populations have remained relatively stable and constant before the human effect started kicking in. We’ve been cutting trees at an enormous rate, especially in areas like the Amazon forests in South America, but many forests in Asia, Europe and North America have also been decimated.

Trees and humans

To say that there are 422 trees per person on Earth is, while true, pretty misleading. The tree density varies greatly across continents and even countries, with the highest tree densities in the sub-arctic regions of Russia, Scandinavia and North America. In terms of total tree cover, South America still reigned supreme though, home to 43% of the world’s trees. In the UK for example, researchers found more than three billion trees, or around 47 per person, while in Ireland there are some 709 million trees, or 154 per person. That means that the trees/person rate in the UK is 10 times lower than the global average, and similar figures are reported for most of the developed world.

“The diverse array of data available today allowed us to build predictive models to estimate the number of trees at each location around the globe,” said postdoctoral student Henry Glick.

The census won’t just help us understand how many trees there are in the world, but inform scientists about the structure of forest ecosystems in different regions and calculate the amount of damage we’ve already done – and what we should do if we want to repair it; essentially, we are now the main driver controlling tree spread and density.

“The scale of human impact is astonishing,” says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist now at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen who led the study while at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “Obviously we expected humans would have a prominent role, but I didn’t expect that it would come out as the as the strongest control on tree density.”


The most worrying fact is that we’ve been stunting tree development especially in places where we’d expect them to thrive – in warm, moist regions. Farming and deforestation often go hand in hand, as do deforestation and ecosystem destruction. The effects of cutting down trees and forests are long reaching and difficult to grasp, but one thing’s for sure: if we continue with the ‘business as usual model’, we’re going to be doing irreparable damage, and everyone on this planet, including us, will have to pay.

Journal Reference: Crowther, T. W. et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14967 (2015).


Drugs and Environmental Damage: An Often Undiscussed Truth

When it comes the damage caused by substance abuse and the illegal drug trade, many think of lives ruined by addiction or those sent to prison for drug-related crimes. It’s also not uncommon to think of traffic violations and arrests caused by driving while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.

When drugs are imported into the United States, the people responsible aren’t just damaging human lives; they may also be wreaking havoc on the environment. The illegal drug industry is harmful to nature in ways the average person may have never realized; let’s take a look at how this happens.

Drug Trade Is Accelerating Deforestation


CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

The disappearing rainforest in South America is blamed on a number of factors – especially cattle ranching. But in recent years, the disappearance of trees on what is supposed to be protected land is increasingly blamed on the drug trade.

It doesn’t help that conservation efforts in highly affected regions such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are hampered by criminals that are dangerous and often violent.

Concerned environmentalists feel that the best possible response would be for the authorities to consider reforestation to be an important part of combating drug cartels.

Prescription Drug Waste and Your Drinking Water

Don't flush your unused medicine down the toilet. Credit: WikiHow

Don’t flush your unused medicine down the toilet. Credit: WikiHow

How do you dispose of your prescription drugs when you no longer need them?

Environmental authorities take prescription drug disposal very seriously because there is concern that actions such as flushing unused drugs down the toilet could contribute to unsafe drinking water.

If you research programs in your area, you may find that there is a “take back” program available for turning in your unused medicine.

If you are simply going to throw your drugs away, be sure remove them from the original containers and carefully mix them with “undesirable substances” such as kitty litter and coffee grounds. They should be placed in a sealed bag or other leak-proof container to avoid unnecessary environmental contamination, as well as to prevent them from falling into the hands of small children.

Methamphetamine Production Causes Hazardous Waste

Credit: ITSGOV

Credit: ITSGOV

According to research, each pound of meth produced creates five to six pounds of hazardous waste. These toxic materials are often disposed of by way of river and streams, putting the health of both humans and animals at risk.

Even worse, the toxic elements can linger for years. Thankfully, because of the serious impact of methamphetamine production on the environment, there are prevention efforts in place.

The failure to be proactive or to catch the meth production in time can lead to clean up and detoxification efforts, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Final Thoughts

Drugs are abused by humans, but other living things can be just as negatively impacted. Plant and animal life shouldn’t have to suffer the ill effects of the drug trade and drug addiction.

The good news is that a growing number of law enforcement agencies understand the importance of protecting the environment from drug-related hazards and properly cleaning up the impacted locations.

These efforts and increased vigilance can work hand in hand to help reverse the harm done to the environment by the illegal drug trade and the irresponsible disposal of drugs.

Norway to pay Liberia to stop cutting its woods

Norway will pay impoverished African country Liberia $150m (£91.4m) to entirely stop deforestation by 2020.

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its economy is extremely underdeveloped. Mix this current situation with the recent Ebola outbreak, and you get a recipe for disaster. Logging is a simple source of revenue in such situations, and Norway wants to put a stop to that.

Liberia is of special importance as it hosts about 43% of the Upper Guinean rainforests. It is also a global diversity hotspot, with species such as western chimpanzees, forest elephants and leopards. As it always happens, when people are impoverished and are in dire need of money, they don’t really care about the biodiversity, and illegal logging grew more and more every year.

Now, the Norwegian and Liberian government have reached an agreement to end this situation. As part of the agreement, Liberia agrees to place 30% or more of its forest estate under protected area status by 2020. It will also send funds to communities to help protect the forests.

“We hope Liberia will be able to cut emissions and reduce poverty at the same time,” said Jens Frolich Holte, a political adviser to the Norwegian government, speaking to the BBC on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in New York.

This is not a novel approach – several contracts have been signed previously, but it’s the first time a national deal has been signed.

“We have funded efforts in Indonesia and Brazil, but I think this is the first time we have entered a deal on a country level.”

However, a huge problem still remains: how will the new laws be enforced? In a country where the economy is almost inexistent and corruption floods every office, preventing trees from being cut seems like quite a big challenge. Experts have made excited, but cautious statements:

“There is the potential for this to go wrong, both Norway and Liberia will have to make sure that this deal does not get affected by corruption, but I am cautiously confident it can be done,” said Patrick Alley, the director of campaign group Global Witness. “It’s really good news, it’s transformational for Liberia when all the news coming out of there is bad – I think this will be a real boost.”

We’ll just have to see how it works. If the results are positive, I look forward to see this kind of partnership implemented in more areas of the world.


Amazon Forest

Amazon trees will withstand even the most pessimistic of global warming scenarios

Amazon Forest

Researchers from the University of Michigan and University College London have found that trees in the Amazon forest will be able to withstand even the most dreaded of forecasted  global warming scenarios from a century from now, after they showed they’ve withstood the test of time. The researchers found that most tree species had been around for millions of years, going through climates in Earth history much more threatening then that of the present or possible in the near future. While climate change might not be a big hurdle for the Amazon rainforest, ever increasing deforestation is a grave issue.

Past studies claimed that rising global warming would cause dreaded effects on tree species across the world, which might lead to their death as temperatures rise. Christopher Dick, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues studied mutations in DNA to determine the ages of 12 widespread Amazonian tree species, including the kapok and the balsa to read their recorded history.

Their results revealed that most tree species were older than 2.6 million years, seven have been present for at least 5.6million years, and three have existed in the Amazon  for a whooping 8 million years. Meaning they’ve caught some intensely warm climates, spanning temperatures far outreaching those predicted in the worse case scenarios made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the region in 2100. For instance, the researchers found surface air temperatures across Amazonia in the early Pliocene Epoch (3.6million to 5million years ago) were similar to the IPCC predictions for the region in 2100 with moderate carbon emissions. Similarly, air temperatures in the late Miocene Epoch  (5.3million to 11.5million years ago) were similar to those projected by the IPCC for the region in 2100 using the highest carbon-emission scenarios.

‘Our paper provides evidence that common Neotropical tree species endured climates warmer than the present, implying they can tolerate near-term future warming under climate change,’ said Professor Dick.

As they become fewer and fewer, however, the trees will have an increasingly hard time coping with climate change, since trees and plants absorb carbon. Fewer trees mean a warmer planet, and humans are certain to make their contribution. Deforestation is an increasingly pressing issue in the region. The authors recommend that a tough conservation policy should focus on preventing deforestation for agriculture and mining to preserve the Rainforest and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

‘The past cannot be compared directly with the future.’ he said. 

‘While tree species seem likely to tolerate higher air temperatures than today, the Amazon forest is being converted for agriculture and mining, and what remains is being fragmented by roads and fields.’

More research is needed though. For a lot of time, the Earth has experienced a rather cold climate. The researchers fear tolerance to warmer temperatures might have been lost along the countless generations.

“An important caveat is that because we’ve been in a cold period over the past 2 million years – basically the whole Quaternary Period – some of the trees’ adaptations to warmth tolerance may have been lost,” Dick said, adding that more research will be needed to “test whether this has occurred.”

Loggers burned Amazon 8 year old tribe girl alive, as part of a campaign to force indigenous population out of the land

This is truly one of the days when you could feel ashamed to be human. According to reports, loggers in Brazil captured an 8 year old girl from one of the Amazon’s last tribes and burned her alive, in an attempt to force tribes out of the territory.

Indigenous people from the Amazonian basin have always been mistreated and even killed since the days of colonization, but to have something like this happen in 2012, for the sake of deforestation – this is something which absolutely blows my mind. It all started with the accusations of a local tribe leader from the Brazilian state of Maranhão who spoke with Terra magazine; the carbonized body was found, and an alleged video appeared too, but hasn’t been made public.

“The loggers were buying wood in the hands of the [Guajajara] Indians and found a little girl [from the tribe Gwajá]. And they burned the child. It was just pure evilness. She is from another tribe, they live in the woods, and have no contact with white people,” said the Guajajara leader.

This is only an outburst of the treatment tribesmen usually get, which often includes beating and abuse – 450 tribes people have were murdered in Brazil between 2003 and 2010. Authorities in Brazil admit this is not an isolated case, but claim that it is still not clear if loggers can indeed be blamed for this one, and they are “urgently investigating the case“. Personally, I would really, really be happy if this turned out to be false, but logic tells me in the not-so-distant future, the Amazonian tribesmen will become extinct, leaving behind a deforested scenery with no witnesses.

Forests, or how we destroy one of our biggest climate protectors

Humanity seems determined to continue on a suicidal path and destroy much of the planet that surrounds us; so far we’ve been lucky, but if we continue in this line, we have a good chance of breaking the very fragile equilibrium our world has.

In almost every forest, carbon is constantly being absorbed as trees and other organisms grow, then released as they die or go dormant. Harvard student Jakob Lindaas and researcher Leland K. Werden are measuring a forest near Havard to find out just how the global forest situation lies.

In their meticulous research, they have found that the Harvest Forest is gaining weight, roughly two tons per acre per year on average. But it could all go down in a matter of weeks. Deforestation isn’t something new however.

“When the European colonists came to America, they saw trees, and they wanted fields and pastures,” explained J. William Munger, a Harvard research fellow who was supervising the measurements. So the colonists chopped down the original forest and built farmhouses, barns, paddocks and sturdy stone fences.

Today, the regrowth of US forests is a huge deal, especially since they are the biggest carbon sponges in the country by far.As in much of the world, the temperature is warming there — by an average of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 40 years — and that has led to longer growing seasons, benefiting this particular forest more than hurting it, at least so far – and the effects are visible.

“We’re actually seeing that the leaves are falling off the trees later in the fall,” Mr. Werden said.

Some steps have been taken in order too protect the forests, but there is one impediment which we will never be able to overcome: our planet simply isn’t big enough to regrow the cut forest somewhere else; and forests have much more enemies than humans, such as bugs or insects, and now, researchers are coming to a startling discovery – there may be no such thing as a natural forest on Earth.

Climate legislation stalled in the United States amid opposition from lawmakers worried about the economic effects, and some European countries have also balked at sending money abroad. That means it is not clear the forest program will ever get rolling in a substantial way.

“Like any other scheme to improve the human condition, it’s quite precarious because it is so grand in its ambitions,” said William Boyd, a University of Colorado law professor working to salvage the plan.

The best hope for the program now is that California, which is intent on battling global warming, will allow industries to comply with its rules partly by financing efforts to slow tropical deforestation. The idea is that other states or countries would eventually follow suit.

Yet, scientists emphasize that in the end, programs meant to conserve forests — or to render them more fire-resistant, as in the Western United States, or to plant new ones, as in China — are only partial measures. To ensure that forests are preserved for future generations, they say, society needs to limit the fossil-fuel burning that is altering the climate of the world.


U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

Vietnam War bio-weapon used today for Amazon deforestation

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

Of all the despicable things I thought possible going on around the Amazonian Rainforrest,  using an extremely powerful chemical agent on the forest would’ve never crossed not even the darkest region of my conscious. It’s indeed petrifying what the human mind can conjure up for profit.

Agent Orange is the chemical in question, and is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War. It provides a quick and easy deployment from the air via an helicopter, and the surface deforested can amount to entire hectares on a single flight. It also doesn’t draw as much attention as a chainsaw or tractor.

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

This is why some ranchers decided to use the method. Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA detected through an aerial survey, from a few weeks back, 440 acres of rainforest that had been sprayed with the compound – poisoning thousands of trees and an untold number of animals, potentially for generations. The agency began the surveying operation after satellite imagery showed trees in the Amazonian forest ash-colored and defoliated by toxic chemicals.

Curiously enough, last week, IBAMA found approximately four tons of Agent Orange hidden in the forest awaiting dispension. If released, the chemicals could have potentially decimated some 7,500 acres of rainforest, killing all the wildlife that resides there and contaminating groundwater. In this case, the individual responsible was identified and now faces fines nearing $1.3 million.

The method in question seems to have sprung out again, since the last case involving it was reported in 1999. Officials however claim that the method might have been more thoroughly used, but has remained undetected so far. More such cases are predicted to appear now with intensification in environmental crime hunt in Brazil.

“They [deforesters] have changed their strategy because, in a short time, more areas of forest can be destroyed with herbicides. Thus, they don’t need to mobilize tree-cutting teams and can therefore bypass the supervision of IBAMA,” says Jerfferson Lobato of IBAMA.

During the Vietnam War, some 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were dispersed above the Vietnamese forests, impacting the health of some 3 million, mostly peasant, Vietnamese citizens. Reportedly, 400,000 people were killed and 500,000 children were born with defects as a direct effect to the exposure to the pesticide. Additionally, the chemical’s effect on the environment have been profound and lasting.