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The Cause and Effect of Deforestation in the Amazon and Southeast Asia

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Environmental Problems & Their Causes

Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest has been causing environmental degradation in Latin America, as people have been chopping down tropical forests for timber and agricultural land for many years. The Amazon deforestation did not simply begin with the Europeans, but much earlier, with the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec civilizations (274-275). This was originally a result of local resource use, but, as the forests of Latin America were discovered to host a large share of the world’s biodiversity, we now know that the Amazon helps to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, on a global scale. Therefore, the more of it that is taken away, the less greenhouse gases are removed.

The large-scale rice agribusiness in Southeast Asia, which may be cultivated year-round, has induced increased moisture in the air around large fields, affecting other crops and the microclimatic patterns in the surrounding area (387). As it is one of the few major crops that can grow in standing water, and it goes well with fish and vegetable diets, as well as the fact that it can be utilized for the whole year, it has been grown as a major crop in the area for many years. The effect that this has on the climate is different from that in the Amazon. While this situation does create a snowball effect, which can possibly affect global climate patterns, stopping the production of rice product will not be the only factor. This is a result of local resource use more than global resource demand.

I believe that, in the case of the Amazon, most people would consider it a problem. As people have become more aware of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to the growing realization of global warming, this is a topic that resonates with people. Unfortunately, as rice production in Southeast Asia is not the main factor in affecting climate change, only large crop-holders feel affected by it, when that is not necessarily the case.

Responding to Environmental Problems

Payments for Environmental Services (PES) is a program that has come to light to protect Latin America’s forests, such as the Amazon. This program pays residents to assist in protecting their local environment (279). This is a governmental program to assist in the conservation of the forest, its resources, and its ability to to remove those greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Similarly, in Southeast Asia, deforestation has been a problem. Luckily, their government has been setting aside forest reserves and banning logging in many places. Many social movements and protests have occurred as well, to raise awareness of these problems (396). The people are assisting the government in Southeast Asia, and the government seems to be acting on the issues. It helps that there has even been international attention raised by environmentalists and human rights groups. It seems that more widely populated areas call for more social engagement with the issues at hand. Unfortunately, the Amazon is not as densely populated as areas in Southeast Asia, so they are so far unable to be conserved in the same ways.

Marginalized Populations

Historically, Indigenous peoples of Latin America were marginalized through European arrival. Peoples such as the Mayans had domesticated many plants that were food staples of the region, somewhat within the Amazon Rainforest. Likewise, European Colonialism has occurred in Southeast Asia, more than once. In 1830, the Dutch introduced the “Culture System” into Java, which required farmers to devote a fifth of their land to export-crop production, and the British and French “promoted rice production to feed laborers and growing populations” (401). Both of these groups’ exploitations led to eventual environmental issues that are still prominent today. For example, the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest and the moisture issue that have come to light with the rice crops in Southeast Asia.

Power & Environmental Benefits/Burdens

With both the Mayans in Latin America and the people of Java in Southeast Asia, the eventual marginalization of these peoples is rooted within European colonization. As these groups were not as economically or politically powerful as the Europeans, they submitted to marginalization and, therefore, were subject to becoming overpowered agriculturally. Where these marginalized peoples saw survival, the Europeans saw profit. I believe that the marginality of the Mayan and Java peoples definitely impeded their ability to effectively protest the environmental issues that arose. People outside of these groups quickly became dependent on the agricultural and forest resources from their land, such as crops or logs. Since these peoples weren’t strong enough to overpower colonization, they became part of the environmental problems without power to remove themselves from them. It was a downward spiral that still continues to this day.

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