“We know there will be problems in environmental terms, many

serious problems, but it is a matter of economics. There won’t be any

complete disaster, and what we cannot solve, well, that’s the price we have

to pay.”

- Eduardo Albuquerque Barbosa

There is a constant war that is being fought in the rainforests of

South America. The death toll is one that far surpasses any other war in

history. Vietnam and World War II had minimal loss of life compared to this

never ending battle. It is predicted that by the year 2020, the casualties will

reach 150 per day. This total does not even include the loss of human life

due to the lack of oxygen and the unsuitable living conditions. This

horrible scenario would be the result of mankind’s failure to cooperate and

live in harmony with the environment, especially the rainforest of South

America. In the end, the destruction of the rainforests will mean the

destruction of mankind.

The devastation of the rainforest may be compared to playing a

game of Russian Roulette. One-forth of existing medicines are derived

from tropical plants whose homes are in the rainforests of South America.

For every acre that is lost in the burning season, there is one acre less that

we have for possible life saving medicines. About 70 percent of plants

used in anti-cancer drugs come from the rain forest. We are slowly

destroying ourselves and the environment. Whether we realize it or not,

the world could quickly come to an ecological halt. Every day 144,000

acres of the rainforests are cut down, slashed and/or put up in flames.

In 1974, Brazil started a forest fire of 20.6 million square feet (3,900 square

miles). The fire ragged out of control and was later marked the largest

forest fire in Brazilian history. This 1974 fire is now considered small to

others in the past recent years. On average the burning season lasts up to

four months out of the whole year. During this period of time, it is not

uncommon for the majority of South America to be covered in a thick

blanket of smoke. The bulk of these fires, when combined, are equivalent

to the great inferno of 1988 at Yellow Stone National Park. Emitted from

these devastating fires every year are billions of carcinogens and

poisonous gases that end up in the atmosphere. The gases and pollution

have been building for many years, and scientists believe that the

atmosphere is due to reach its saturation point very soon.

The greed for money and lust for land are just two flames at the heart

of the fire. At the expense of innocent lives of rainforest dwelling animals

and local environmentalists, large corporations can some how justify there

murderous means. Rainforests cover only a mere seven percent of the

earth’s land surface, yet they contain 50 percent of the world’s species.

Along with the thousands of animals in these century old forests, there are

many tribes of Indians who are subjected to torment and usually death

from the large companies. Heartless Corporations such as Endesa,

Arboriente and PICOP ignore the blockades of the FPA, “Forest Peoples’

Alliance”, and the perpetual pleas of the Scientist’s who predict, “tropical

species are disappearing at a rate that could conceivably reach as high as

150 species a day by the year 2020″ Landry, (5). Unfortunately this battle

comes down to economics versus environment, and so far the environment

is losing the war.

Chico Mendes’ death finally brought the much needed world wide

attention to the rainforests. Until 1988 the astonishing figures produced by

environmentalist and scientists never had much weight on the conscience

of countries outside of the Amazon Rain Forest. The death of Mendes was

the second death of a NCRT, National Council of Rubber Tappers, member

in recent times. The fight, ” at first, was only about ecology, and defending

the fishes, the animals, the forest, and the river. They didn’t realize that

humans were also in the forest” Rodrigues, Revkin (1). Though Chico was

a rubber tapper in the town of Xapuri, he spent most of the year traveling

around the world trying to gain support in his fight against the destruction

of the rainforest . Chico’s non-violent approach won him much favor from

the United States and all of the other rubber tappers. Chico Mendes once

said, “If a messenger came down from heaven and guaranteed that my

death would strengthen our struggle, it would even be worth it. But

experience teaches us the opposite. Public rallies and lots of funerals

won’t save the Amazon” Revkin (1). Mendes had recently returned home

from a six week long visit and rally in the United States. Three days before

Christmas he was shot dead in the doorway of his house. Hundreds

attended Chico’s funeral, and despite his asking for no flowers, since he

knew they were going to be picked from the forest, someone left one

bouquet on his coffin. Mendes gave his life for the rain forest. In essence,

he was the first “Green Martyr” of the Amazon, and hopefully not the last.

It is the ruthless logging companies along with the complete

ignorance of the local peasants and governments that aid in the yearly loss

of the hundreds of thousands of acres of essential rainforest. In Latin

America cattle ranching for export trade is the chief culprit in rain forest


The bullheaded ranchers fail to see the effects of their burning the land.

After land is burned and raped of the minerals the land becomes dead.

These are some of the problems but, ” Land degradation caused by

grazing is by far the greatest challenge in Latin America” Caufield, (113).

There is a false illusion of an endless rainforest, so every couple of years,

the ranchers move on an either try and sell the land or burn more of the

rain forest and convert it to pastures. The U.S. does not offer much help,

the destruction of the rain forests takes five cents off the price of an

American hamburger. The United States buys up three quarters off all

Central American beef exports. Perhaps after all there are more criminals

than we think, the US is also directly responsible for the devastation of

mankind. Maybe the South Americans just support our greediness and

“necessity” for food, which the majority of goes to waste. Maybe not, but

we are to immersed in our own fervor to realize that we are digging our

own grave. Despite all of the attacks on the ranchers in the past decade,

“it is still good business to clear virgin forest in order to fatten cattle for

say five to eight years and then abandon it” Caufield, (112). The answer to

our problem is already known, but we just do not want to listen. Science

does not lie therefore sooner or later mankind will start to feel the major

effects of rainforest devastation

The long term effects from the deforestation of the Amazon are

already showing worldwide. The one major effect is the earth’s climate.

The “greenhouse effect” is caused by the rise in the level of CO2 in the

atmosphere. Eventually this could make the temperature rise five degrees

every couple of years, and in theory cause London and New York to be

under sixteen feet of water.

The scientists of the world are not all in agreement on every issue but, “in

some way shape or form there will be drastic changes in the climate as a

direct result of rainforest destruction” Shiguango, (7). The destruction of

40 million acres of rain- forest a year causes a major dent on the species

living in these regions. Magnificent and beautiful creatures of God are

being innocently killed by the destruction of their homes. In the last twenty

years, four major damns have been built in Latin and South America. The

most recent, The Tucurui Dam, is twelve miles long and when filled, the

reservoir will destroy 800 square miles of virgin forest and put an end to

over 10,000 different species, not including the 9,000 Indians who once

lived at the bottom of the basin. What seems to be a small aspect in our

life now will have a profound effect in the future. Simple items that we take

for granted now, such as tropical woods, bananas, nuts and other

materials such as rattan will soon be available in much smaller quantities.

The effects of deforestation maybe still inconspicuous to many, but soon it

will start to effect us all in one way or another.

Through our own imprudence and default we have let the innocent

lives of billions of people and animals, around the world, fall into the hands

of cattle ranchers, peasants and government officials. We have yet to learn

that the environment will always promise us life and a future, and

economics will only keep us happy for a while before it destroys us. Thus

the war between the two has been going on for nearly 200 years, and it is

not close to being over. The distant light at the end of the tunnel is faint.

The spreading of knowledge is a slow process that takes many years.

Hopefully, if we work together to save the rainforest we can make up for

our own negligence and win the war against ourselves.

1. Andrew Revkin, The Burning Season (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,


2. Robert M. McClung, Vanishing Wildlife of Latin America (New

York: William Morrow, 1981)

3. Catherine Caufield, In the Rainforest (New York: Random House,


4. Jamie Shiguango, “An Experiment in Rainforest Conservation”

Cultral Survival Quarterly Spring 1988: 56-59

5. Alexander Shankland, “Brazil’s BR-364 Highway: A Road To

Nowhere” Ecologist July/Aug. 1993: 141-147

6. Sue Landry, ” Saving the Rain Forest: A Patch of Hope” St.

Petersburg Times 27 Feb. 1994, 1f+(1-14)

The Destruction




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