RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil—Consumption of a McDonald’s hamburger or Chicken McNuggets has been linked as a contributor to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Deforestation is when a forest is cleared of its trees, its life, making way for industry profit through highway construction, mining activities, dam building, logging, cattle ranching, and soybean production.
According to Greenpeace, an environmental activist group, a majority of the Brazilian soybeans are bought by a company called Cargill. That company then sells the soybeans to fast food companies like McDonalds, which feeds the soybeans to its cows and chickens.
As the fast food chains expand to more areas, more cows and chickens are needed, hence more soybeans. This means, clearing more forest because the soils in the Amazon are only productive for a short time period after forest removal.
The Amazon rainforest has been said to hold about 30 percent of the world’s species, with millions of unclassified or unknown plants and animal species. When the trees that provided homes for animals and insects are gone, the critters become displaced, seeking shelter elsewhere if they can find any.
As the trees are often cleared by burning, releasing carbon, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other poisonous chemicals into the air, animals and humans living near and working in the Amazon could become ill or die from smoke inhalation.
The cattle ranching done after some forest has been cleared, is also detrimental to the environment. Cattle release large quantities of methane through burping, contributing to climate change as the gas traps heat at greater rates than carbon dioxide.
This heat contributes to heat waves.
Cattle ranching has other negative effects, as people working on the ranches are often treated as slaves, according to Greenpeace.
Amazon deforestation can delay the cures of diseases like AIDS and cancer, as the forest has been said to hold treatments for medicines used against such diseases.
Is deforestation in the Amazon warranted, given the health and environmental effects it has on plant, animal, and human life?
Brief Brazilian history
Brazil is the largest country in South America, with a population of over 192 million people. It borders all countries in South America, except for Ecuador and Chile.
In the 1500s, the Portuguese colonized the area known today as Brazil and the country was legally recognized as independent in 1825, though it declared independence in 1822.
In the 1940s, Brazil began its exploitation of the Amazon, its natural resource, though deforestation did not become widespread until the 1960s when the forest was cleared for cattle ranching, as grass is able to grow in the poor soil.
The country needed national revenue and a way to pay off international debt, seeking to gain money by exporting beef. Also, the Brazilian people were starving and the beef helped feed them.
By 1970, highway transportation projects, like the Trans Amazon Highway, were promoted, causing more forest to be cleared so products used for export could have an easier exit.
Hydroelectric dams and mining activities were introduced to the Amazon in the 1980s. The dams have been known to flood the area, as well as emit carbon dioxide and methane into the air. Mining requires clearing trees in order to open mines. The trees are often then used as building materials and wood for fuel.
Logging for timber has also greatly reduced trees in the Amazon. Because logging is selective and only certain types of trees are commercially valuable, other trees have to be removed to get a specific one. Also, when a tree falls, it takes smaller ones down with it.
After the trees are logged, the soil that was once shaded is subject to intense heat by the sun. The soil then becomes less fertile and farmers cannot sufficiently use the land for multiple yields. More trees then have to be removed so the farmers can survive.
By the late 1980s, Brazilian Amazon deforestation had become a global issue and since the early 2000’s the rate of deforestation has decreased.
Measures taken to end, slow deforestation
In 2002, Brazil signed the Kyoto agreement, which is an agreement among countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the year 1990 emission levels by 2012.
Greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap and release heat into the air.
Although Brazil joined other countries in ratifying the Kyoto agreement, it was considered a developing country and therefore not required to cut emissions at the same rate as developed countries.
In 2006, Brazil recognized that deforestation accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and by 2007 the country’s lean toward ethanol and biodiesel fuel production, as well as forest conservation areas, had cut the rate of deforestation by 50 percent in three years.
Brazil has offered plans to further reduce its emissions, like using donor funds to help reduce emissions. Plans from other sources have included giving credits to developing countries that reduce emissions while giving credits to developed countries for funding “reforestation.”
Reforestation puts trees and plants into forests that have been damaged by deforestation.
However, although Brazil has the largest national economy in South America, the country’s main priority is reducing the poverty rate, with 26 percent of its population living below the poverty line.
Deforestation is not Brazil’s main concern.
Thought to consider
Does impoverishing a forest through deforestation contribute to human poverty?