The Amazon rainforest is losing 200,000 acres a day. Soon it will be too late
Since 1988, humans have destroyed an area of rainforest roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined
Kim Heacox, Opinion, The Guardian (UK)
7 Oct 2021
Shortly before his 44th birthday, in December 1988, the Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes predicted he would not live until Christmas. “At first,” he said, “I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.”
Mendes had received death threats for years. The threats escalated when an aggressive rancher laid claim to a nearby forest reserve, where he intended to burn and level trees to create pasture for cattle. The rancher hired gunmen to prowl around Mendes’s neighborhood. Mendes publicly opposed the rancher, and continued to advocate for the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, saying Brazil must save the most biodiverse forest in the world. Destroy it, he said, and we, the human race, will end up destroying ourselves.
Three days before Christmas, 1988, Mendes was shot dead by the rancher’s son.
It stunned the world.
The National Council of Rubber Tappers, reeling from the assassination, made a plea that the Amazon be preserved “for the whole Brazilian nation as part of its identity and self-esteem”. The council added: “This Alliance of the Peoples of the Forest – bringing together Indians, rubber tappers, and riverbank communities – embraces all efforts to protect and preserve this immense but fragile life-system that involves our forests, rivers, lakes and springs, the source of our wealth and the basis of our cultures and traditions.”
Since Mendes’s murder, nearly 1 million sq km of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, have been destroyed, primarily in Brazil, but also in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guyana. That equates to an average of some 200,000 acres every day, or 40 football fields per minute. In Brazil alone, home to the greatest expanse of forest, the rate of loss has increased by more than 30%. The Amazon – historically a great carbon absorber, since trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen – now releases more carbon than it stores, which adds to, rather helps to reduce, our global climate crisis.
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