New satellite photographs show that the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has exploded this past year. Environmentalists blame illegal logging, cattle production and soybean farming. Others say the significant loss of rainforest acreage also is an indication that efforts by the Brazilian government to stop deforestation have been futile.
In the month of April alone, more than 430 square miles of forest, an area slightly smaller than the city of Los Angeles, vanished. Some 2,300 square miles were destroyed between August 2007 and April 2008.
While individual Americans aren't chopping down and burning the rainforest, which emits tons of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Americans are significant consumers of the raw materials cultivated or raised on cleared forest lands or harvested from the forests themselves. Changes in the things people buy and consume out of habit will not change matters overnight, but it would represent a concrete way to help the problem.
For one, Americans need to reduce their wood and paper consumption. It is impossible not to use paper, but a higher premium can be placed on recycling and purchasing paper products with a high percentage of recycled content. Consumers should inquire about the origin of the wood they buy. Wood products that carry the Forest Stewardship Council certification come from forests where environmental, social and economic interests and benefits are safeguarded. Whenever possible, the purchase of tropical hardwoods should be avoided.
Second, Americans need to make better choices regarding their diets. The United States imports hundreds of millions of fresh and frozen beef from Latin America. In many cases, rainforests are cleared to make way for larger cattle herds and to cultivate animal feed.
America's love affair with the car isn't just painful because of rising fuel prices. Oil extraction and exploration is a major cause of deforestation in tropical rainforests. Cutting oil consumption would not just save money, it could help save acreage in the rainforest.
Surely, changes in consumer habits are but one tool to reverse the trend of rainforest destruction. Brazil's government must devote more resources to protect the rainforests through policy and strict regulatory practices.
The first step in meaningful reform should be education. Americans are more dependent upon rainforests than most people realize. Conversely, they can make a significant difference in the forests' health by adopting careful consumptive and purchase habits.