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Why rainforests are important for our planet – and why the system can’t save them
30 September 2013. A World to Win News Service. A rainforest is a hot, thick jungle characterized by high rainfall, between 250 and 450 centimetres annually. Although they cover only 6 percent of the earth’s surface, rainforests contain more than half of all the different types of plants and animals on the earth. As many as 30 million species of plants and animals live in tropical rainforests.
Most of the rainforests are located around the middle of the earth, near the equator. They help clean the air that we breathe. They are often called the “lungs of the planet” because of their role in absorbing carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – and producing oxygen. They stabilize climate and produce rainfall all around the world. They maintain the recycling of water between the ground and the sky and protect against flood, drought and soil erosion.
Rainforests are found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Central and South America. The world’s largest is the Amazon a rainforest in Brazil and eight neighbouring countries, stretching across the continent from the Andes mountains to the Atlantic ocean. Over a thousand herbal medicine plants are situated in these forests. They are called “the world’s largest pharmacy.” They are also a huge source of food and an amazing and beautiful section of our planet. They are the earth’s oldest living ecosystems.
How are rainforests being destroyed?
Every year an area over 22,000 square kilometres of rainforest is cut down and destroyed. The plants and animals either die or must find a new forest to live. Human activities – determined by logic of the movement of capital and its insatiable hunger for profit – are the main cause of rainforest destruction.
- Extraction of minerals and energy
- Construction of roads and pipelines
- Cutting wood for lumber by big companies – legal and illegal logging
- Large scale agriculture (usually export crops)
- Clearing the forest to create grazing land for cattle farming
- Cutting wood to obtain pulp for producing paper
- Land for poor farmers who are pushed out of their homes due to land grabbing or expansion of cities and shanty towns
Rainforests are also threatened by climate change, which is contributing to droughts in parts of the Amazon and South Asia. Drought causes massive die-offs of trees, and dried-out leaf litter increases the risk of forest fires. Forest fires are also often set by land developers, ranchers and plantation owners to clear the land.
In 2005 and 2010, the Amazon experienced the worst droughts ever recorded. Rivers dried up, isolating communities, and millions of acres burned. The smoke caused widespread health problems and blocked the formation of rain clouds, while the burning emitted a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening the effects of climate change.
Meanwhile Indonesia has experienced several severe droughts in recent decades. The worst occurred in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, when millions of acres of forest burned. These precious rainforests are plundered by logging for timber and cleared for palm oil plantations. Almost three-quarters of Indonesia’s original forest is already gone. According to the United Nations Environmental Project, at current rates of destruction, almost all of Indonesia’s forests will be gone by 2022.
The destruction and fragmentation of forests – as well as rainforests and other natural habitats inland and in seas – could bring about the extinction of many species of plants and animals. Large-scale pollution and the degradation of the water, air and soil, combined with the real advance of climate change, is already creating a serious environmental disaster. Humanity is well on the way to making this planet literally uninhabitable, meaning the environment and human destiny is on the brink of disaster. As climate scientist James Hansen has warned, “Our home planet is now dangerously near a tipping point.”
The destruction of the Amazon rainforest
In the nine years from 1991 to 2000, the total area of the Amazon rainforest cut and burned down rose from 415,000 to 587,000 square kilometres. Most of this land is used for large-scale cattle farming. Deforestation was accelerated following the opening of highways deep into the forest, such as the Trans-Amazonian highway built by the Brazilian government in 1972.
Cattle farming, valuable hardwood logging and the growing of soya beans (soybeans), often for biofuel production, the expansion of cities and mining are the main reasons for cutting away the Amazonian Rainforest. Brazil is the second biggest producer of soya beans after the U.S. In the Amazon, cleared land is valued between 5-10 times more than forested land, which of course constitutes an irresistible motivation to cut down trees on a mass scale. By Brazilian law, clearing land for crops or fields is considered an ‘’effective use”, which is relevant for asserting land ownership. This change in land use may alter the region’s climate, according to scientists using NASA satellite data. From 1992 to 1996, Amazonian deforestation increased by 34 percent By 2005, a 17.1 percent total loss of rainforest was recorded. Almost the same trend is still continuing.
It has been calculated that in 2006, McDonald’s and its suppliers alone were responsible for the deforestation of 70,000 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest over the preceding three years. The need for soya to fed to their chickens, for example, was a major factor. In addition to the massive deforestation, these suppliers have also been linked to illegal land grabbing and the use of slave labour on these farms. Tens of thousands of Brazilians from all over the country have been lured into the jungle by the promise of jobs and then held at gunpoint and forced to work as slaves. Even when the slaves eventually escape or end up abandoned, the plantation owners are almost never punished. The landlords and their gangs of thugs enjoy impunity from the law.
If deforestation at the rate of 2007 continues, within two decades, the Amazon rainforest will be reduced by 40 percent. Lately there has been slight reduction but the shrinking of the forest is still continuing.
Can capitalism save the environment?
In the age of imperialism and rivalry over world domination, where the imperialist countries ruled by monopoly capitalists carry out bloody invasions and wars, and commit and sponsor genocides, one cannot expect these global powers to respect, care for and sustain our planet. For them, nature is something to be seized and plundered, and exploited and poured into profit-driven commodity production. Capitalists or blocs of capital confront one another as competitors; their relative peace is a preparation period for wars. They must be prepared and ready to seize on any advantage to undercut their competition, otherwise they will go under. That’s why major powers up to now have failed to agree on a meaningful action at various international conferences regarding climate change. That’s why capitalism as a system cannot deal with environment in a proper way, even if an individual capitalist or group of capitalists sincerely wanted to.
The motive force behind any capitalist production is profit. Their logic is this: everything produced is a commodity that must be sold at a profit. Regardless of the will of the capitalists themselves, they must expand or die, and they only take into account their own profits and losses and not the damages and cost to the environment, the general population, and so on. In this process of expansion, capitalism proceeds through imperialist domination of oppressed nations and strategic rivalry between imperialist powers and their allies. This is carried out through world wars, regional wars, wars to maintain their rule against revolutions, brutal violence against native people and so on, as we can see in the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… In fact, the U.S. army is not only the main enforcer of the system that is plundering the earth’s environment and its people, but a major source of carbon dioxide emission. The carbon emissions generated by the U.S.-led war in Iraq every year was equal to the emissions created by the addition of 25 million more cars on the roads in the U.S. annually. If the war was ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more carbon dioxide each year than 139 of the worlds’ nations do annually according to a report by Oil Change International.
Often people in the “third world” suffer qualitatively more from the consequences of global warming than those living in imperialist countries ruled by the monopoly capitalists. But capitalists will never put the interests of the preservation of the ecosystems of the entire planet above their development plans in order to ensure the health of the planet and the people for the future generations.
What else can we expect from a system that has used atomic weapons against people in Japan (by the U.S.) and introduced the use of chemical weapons (both sides used them in World War One, and the British used it to put down a revolt against their domination of Iraq in 1920. Italy used poison gas in its attempt to take over Ethiopia in the 1930s). This is without mentioning the massive destruction of people and the environment in wars to control “third world” countries ever since – or the massive nuclear arsenals that the major powers and Israel have built up to maintain and advance their interests. Those who have no respect for human life will definitely have no respect for our planet. In fact it is this system that has got us into this situation in the first place, and the situation will definitely become even worse.
Our survival depends on the natural world, from green plants that produce oxygen to other living species that provide food and medicine; we cannot live without fresh water, nutrient-rich soils and clean air. At the same time we are linked with the natural world through complex evolutionary chains and through networks of ecosystems that provide the flow of energy for life to maintain itself.
If we do not move to stem climate change, to protect and preserve fast vanishing natural ecosystems around the world, this planet could very well become uninhabitable for billions of people and possibly all of humanity. The inner workings of capitalism-imperialism, and the imperialists’ history and practice on a global scale, proves beyond doubt that this system and those who run it are not and cannot be fit to be caretakers of our planet.
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