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In recent years, there have been concerted efforts by leaders and nations around the world to confront the array of environmental issues currently facing the global community. Whether coming through dedicated promises to scale back on detrimental practices, or taking action in reducing the unsustainable business operations that many undertake, it is clear that we are at a pivotal time in history that will determine the well-being and future of our planet. In doing so, there are a plethora of issues that threaten future generations and environmental stability, with one of the more prominent and wide-reaching being that of deforestation. The concept of deforestation, in a simplistic sense, is that of cutting down trees and natural agricultural life as a means of using the lumber and resources for production purposes. Undoubtedly, trees are a crucial part in providing lumber for a broad range of activities, ranging from papermaking to building homes, and without such natural resources would have made it historically impossible to scale and grow civilizations at the rate that they have. However, recent technological advancements have provided new means of producing the very same resources in more sustainable manners, yet major corporations and proponents of deforestation continue to employ practices that are unsustainable.
In order to better understand the overarching impacts of deforestation, it is necessary to first analyze the historical background of the issue, and how it has become such a major issue today. In doing so, deforestation has had a long history, dating back more than 500 years, as humans realized the benefits that came with transforming trees into lumber and other raw materials to be used in the production of various goods. As such, the impacts of deforestation and the centuries which it has lasted have left marks on the natural world, providing insight as to how detrimental it has been. Studies provide insight into the various periods throughout human history wherein deforestation occurred, shedding light on how long the practice has truly been around. As such, “In the classical world…Greek expansion to the eastern Mediterranean and Roman expansion westward led to remarkable deforestation; the consequent soil degradation was a major factor in the decline of the classical world. For the medieval period…the ways in which remarkable increases in population, medieval technology of plows and horsepower, cottage industry, shipbuilding, and crusades led to large-scale deforestation.” (Williams, 2008) Although these are only two examples of specific eras where deforestation was witnessed, it is clear that the methodologies existed for much of human history, and have only been magnified at scale in recent years. With the start of the Industrial Revolution throughout Europe, and processes of acquiring these resources became more automated, the world shifted into an era of inordinate unsustainability, one in which the modern community is continuing to undergo. As these actions became more efficient and profitable, it has since led to extensive declines in the forests around the world, with one of the most notable including that of the Amazon rainforest.
Before delving into the case of the Amazon rainforest, it is necessary to touch on the impacts that deforestation has on the global community. In doing so, “the act of deforestation has impacted on the world in term of depreciating the natural environment and wildlife. It has also impacted on humans on the account of changes in environmental support processes such as weather conditions…For more than one hundred years, the number of trees on the planet has plummeted, resulting in devastating consequences such as biodiversity loss, soil erosion, species extinction, global warming, and interference with the water cycle.” (EarthEclipse) The inevitable and explicit impacts of deforestation are apparent in the continued detriment to the climate, degradation of animal species and biodiversity, and an overall skewing of the Earth’s natural processes. In this regard, deforestation has had some of the most significant impacts on human lifestyles and the planet as a whole, begging the question as to why new methodologies have yet to be implemented.
When it comes to the Amazon rainforest, this region is renown for its lush and vibrant ecology, the abundance of animal and insect species that find their homes in the area, and unfortunately, is one of the few remaining thriving rainforests left in the global community. With a plethora of resources available for commercial reasons, corporations began to take advantage of the benefits the region would provide them, setting up their operations in close proximity in order to maximize their profits. Specifically so, “forests in the Amazon were cleared faster than ever before in the late 1970s through the mid-2000s. Vast areas of rainforest were felled for cattle pasture and soy farms, drowned for dams, dug up for minerals, and bulldozed for towns and colonization projects. At the same time, the proliferation of roads opened previously inaccessible forests to settlement by poor farmers, illegal logging, and land speculators.” (Butler, 2017) With productions processes growing more and more efficient, large corporations opted out of changing their strategies towards sustainability, and rather continued to use detrimental practices to fuel their revenues and bottom line. The impact that these large corporations have had on the Amazon rainforest is breathtakingly disastrous, and manifest themselves in various ways. This includes the degradation of ecosystems and animal life, leading to extinctions of species, increased fires as a result of selective logging, natural droughts, record-breaking pollution levels found in the air, as well as natural disasters such as landslides that have directly cost human lives. These are just a few of the overt and explicit effects that deforestation has had on the Amazon rainforest, as such effects continue to worsen without any meaningful reform taking place. Understandably so, the issues that are debated on both sides have created chatter in the public sphere, making it clear that there must be some extent of resolution found to alleviate the concerns of both sides. However, thus far, attempts to implement such policies have been futile, despite the capabilities that advancements have provided to reduce reliance on natural resources derived from deforestation.
In understanding the various stakeholder groups which exist in regards to the deforestation issue, it can be found that these people include the heads of corporations that find their industry reliant upon these resources, environmentalists that believe reform can be made to allow for more sustainable productions, as well as public policy officials that aim to appease both of the aforementioned stakeholders to remain popular and be reelected. These three groups all of differing intentions and arguments when it comes to deforestation, and providing a cohesive resolution for all sides is the only way to reduce the level of forest clearing that has run rampant in recent years.
First and foremost, it is crucial to understand the arguments and claims made by corporate individuals, as they look to increase their profits and ensure their companies continue to thrive. One of the primary arguments made by proponents of deforestation is that it provides a greater area to be inhabited by people, especially considering the burgeoning population issue that is currently taking place. In doing so, their claims state that, “with 10 billion people expected to be on the planet by 2050 and the never-ending growth explosion in sight, space has become more of a premium necessity on Earth. When there are forests on lands that could be utilized for habitation, then removing them can create more livable space. Commercial establishments and homes will also be built using the products that have been removed from the biome.” (GreenGarage) This point, which is valid in and of itself, then is backed up by another argument, that the resources derived from deforestation can be used to better the lives of individuals who use those resources. Whether lumber for homes, or the plants and parts used to make paper and napkins, corporate executives can make the argument that deforestation provides the resources and goods that people purchase around the world.
Another common claim that is made by proponents of deforestation is that it provides much needed economic support to the nations in which the practice occurs. Due to the fact that many of the major forests, especially the Amazons, are present in underdeveloped and impoverished countries, companies claim that deforestation allows them to establish operations in these countries, providing jobs for the locals who desperately need them. In this sense, the proposed establishments will bring about a win-win situation, both due to the affordable labor and acquisition to resources for the major companies, as well as providing wages and means of subsistence for people who live within close proximity of the forests and factories in question. According to proponents, deforestation creates job opportunities, given that “as deforestation increases demand from the lumber, manufacture, transportation, and construction industries, more people will be needed to get the job done, thus an increase in employment opportunities.” (FutureofWorking, 2016) Although this is undoubtedly a reasonable claim to make, the fact of the matter is that such jobs and employment have not benefitted those who are living in the area. Rather, any employment opportunities have been meager and detrimental to the laborers, as their wages are immensely subpar and working conditions can be dangerous.
When it comes to the environmentalist viewpoint on deforestation, it is clear why so many eco-conscious and environmentally-friendly individuals have denounced the clearing of rainforests. In doing so, there are many arguments that are made in terms of the sustainability and capability to keep up these practices, and the overarching impacts that they have on the natural world. In doing so, one of the foremost claims regarding deforestation made by environmentalists is that such practices can lead to permanent and negligent outcomes for the planet, and the climate which is present throughout it. As such, “excessive clearing or thinning of forests can destabilize the world’s climate by releasing into the atmosphere millions of tons of greenhouse gasses normally stored in wood in the form of carbon. This can damage the atmosphere and lead to global warming and eventually climate change. By storing carbon, forests provide a major environmental benefit by reducing global warming.” (CIFOR) This is a claim not only echoed by opponents of deforestation, but similarly the world community, as the impacts and consequences of climate change are becoming ever more prevalent throughout the world, and measures are being taken to combat this issue. If deforestation remains such a prominent practice in the corporate and commercial world, it can lead to detrimental impacts of releasing more greenhouse gasses into the environment, which has already been scientifically proven to dramatically alter the climate and weather of the planet. This is a relevant and valid argument against deforestation, as the consequences that are apparent have a far more detrimental outcome than the positives that are proposed.
Furthermore, another reason why environmentalists are so severely against the concept of deforestation, is due to the fact that it has disastrous effects on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the abundant plant and animal life that find their homes in the Amazon rainforest. In doing so, “most of the planet’s valuable biodiversity is within forests, particularly tropical ones. Moist tropical forests such as the Amazon have the greatest concentrations of animal and plant species of any terrestrial ecosystem; perhaps two-thirds of Earth’s species live only in these forests. As deforestation proceeds, it has the potential to cause the extinction of increasing numbers of these species.” (Pimm, 2016) With more animal species becoming extinct what seems like on a daily basis, it is clear that the impact of human’s has had an unnatural effect on the animals and other living creatures that are on the planet as well. These different species similarly have important roles in the global community, and the eradication of their kind can lead to imbalance and unwanted consequences in the future if not confronted. This is a valid claim made by many environmentalists in regards to the results of deforestation, and provides insight as to how unsustainable practices can be detrimental to the Earth, and to our own species in terms of the lifestyles that are currently lived.
The final group of stakeholders in this regard is that of policymakers around the world, but more specifically and importantly, those in the United States. It is apparent in the global community that many follow the lead established by US politicians, and the actions taken by them can make meaningful impacts when done in the right way. In regards to their interests and needs, these policymakers are primarily focused on catering to the interests of their constituents so as to be reelected, as well as the whim of corporate lobby groups, from whom they receive immense amounts of funding and campaign contributions to be reelected at all. This has created an interesting and difficult dichotomy between the interests of people and corporations, with the latter emerging victorious for the most part. This is primarily due to the fact that the general constituency is less aware of the environmental matters at hand, and do not have the funding to make it a widespread issue come election time. Nonetheless, it is these people that have the capabilities and power to implement policy reforms that will benefit the environmental world, and without their leadership, no such changes can be made.
The current policy in regards to deforestation is quite lax and nonexistent to begin with. Corporations have the ability to reach out to foreign governments, such as the ones in Brazil, and establish partnerships by which the company can establish their manufacturing plants in prime locations with close proximity to the rainforests, and on the other end the government is paid out quite handsomely by these corporate executives. Although the Brazilian government has become far more protective about their rainforests, the reality is that the United States has done little-to-nothing to dissuade corporations that are already established in the country to implement new and more sustainable processes. This, as a result, has led to no decrease in the purchase of raw materials coming out of the Amazon, and rather incentivized corporations to continue their destructive behavior.
One of the potential policy options that can be implemented to combat deforestation is that of corporate establishments. In doing so, “one of the most profitable and ecologically sound alternatives to mass deforestation in the Amazon is to attract not only responsible logging companies but entice these companies to build production facilities within the nations that they are logging from. Most of the logging industry cuts down the timber and immediately ships it to foreign countries where their factories process the wood into timber and other wood products.” (Blahnik, 2002) The fact is, that even though companies claim they are bringing jobs into the country, they are simultaneously doing everything they can to pay as little as possible for the finished goods. Given the restrictions on some forms of timber and logging, corporations ship out their products immediately so that they are not tracked or cause concern for conservationist groups in the country. By enforcing laws that would ensure these companies set up their production facilities in the home country in which they get their resources, it would not only decrease the amount of deforestation that occurs, but furthermore provide the jobs that they claim to want to provide.
A second way to ensure that deforestation can be better regulated and decreased in the global community, is through an incentive or punishment type of policy that can be levied by world governments. In doing so, “financial incentives created by REDD+ can also change business practices. The success of ‘payments for environmental services’ in such countries as Costa Rica and Mexico and the work of Brazilian ranchers and nongovernmental organizations to develop sustainable agriculture standards show how this can be done. Economic incentives combined with political activism offer a powerful lever for promoting development without deforestation.” (UCSUSA, 2010) The benefit of this is that companies can be provided incentives monetarily if they fit certain standards, and implement practices that would offset their negative impact on the environment. On the other hand, there can also be a punishment if there is an unwillingness to implement such operations. In doing so, major countries that purchase from these companies, namely the United States, can levy higher tariffs and taxes on imports of these goods and the corporation as a whole, which will reduce the desire to practice unsustainably. Essentially, this will allow corporations the option to adopt the more ethical and conscious practices as a means of not only reducing their environmental footprint, but being able to sell their goods at a more effective and efficient manner
Overall, when looking at the concept of deforestation, and the widespread detriment it has caused to the environmental world, it is clear that we are reaching a point in history, where our actions will have long-term, perhaps permanent, effects and consequences on the planet. With deforestation ramping up as a result of technological advancements and innovations, it is even more important that these progressions are used for positive means, and not destructive ones. By implementing new policies and reforms that will empower corporations to be more sustainable, while punishing the ones who forgo the needs of the natural environment, it will reduce the level of unsustainable deforestation in the global community, while ensuring that the benefits and advantages of such regions remain intact for years to come.
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