Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rainforest Destruction: You’re Probably Funding It and Didn’t Even Know It


By Samantha Bell

Over the past 40 years, nearly 52 percent of the world’s wildlife have disappeared from the earth due to habitat loss, climate change and poaching, according to the 2014 World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report. All of which can be tied back to our consumption habits.

Many of the products we buy everyday are indirectly funding deforestation around the globe. While you may be thinking of just paper goods, that is not the case. The majority of products we buy come with hidden costs to the environment, but some are causing irreparable damage across the world. Consumer goods made with commodity crops like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane have been directly linked to the deforestation of the world’s tropical rainforests.

So, how can this be?  Soy, palm oil, and sugar are used in pretty much every consumer good you can imagine, from snacks to shampoo and make-up. As you can imagine, there is a huge demand for these crops, which means high payoffs for farmers who grow them. The result of the high profits for these crops is deforestation.

Palm oil and sugar cane grow best in warm, humid climates, which incidentally are the climate zones that house the world’s rainforests. Farmers who grow these crops for big corporations clear thick forest areas to make way for crop plantations; the area of land cleared in Indonesia for palm plantations is equivalent to the size of Maine.

Also, for the most part, Americans’ diets rely heavily on meat, dairy and eggs. While this is especially true in the U.S., the rest of the world follows a similar trend. Meeting this high demand for meat and animal products requires a lot of space and resources. Around 26 percent of the earth’s surface is used just for grazing livestock and another 33 percent of land is allotted to grow livestock feed, according to WorldWatch.org.

There is only a limited amount of land on the surface of our planet, and most of it is not flat grassland, ideal for grazing livestock or growing feed. So, this means that we have to convert the open land we do have – mostly rainforests – to agriculture land.

In the Amazon, agriculture related deforestation runs rampant. In the Brazilian region of the Amazon, nearly 80 percent of deforestation is caused by cattle ranching and this rate increased by 29 percent in the past year alone, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Clear-cutting forests to make way for soy plantations that produce livestock feed is a burgeoning problem in the Amazon and across South America.

The rapid, systematic destruction of this rainforest has a serious impact on animal species. In fact, a new report by the University of Cambridge warns that one-third of the Amazon could lose 44 percent of its species in the next 15 years due to agricultural expansion.

Around 75 percent of species in the Amazon are confined to about 22 percent of land. These animals balance on just one tiny speck of land; we can stop this destruction just by making more mindful food choices.

It’s time to start connecting the dots between our food choices and their impact on the planet and our animal species.

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