Razing the Rainforest: a legacy of species extinction, violence, increased poverty, and lost livelihoods

© Aidenvironmen Creative Commons. The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Deforestation for oil palm plantation.

Tropical rainforests present some of the most biodiverse and biologically important areas on Earth. They are home to unique species of plant and animal and to some one billion people, who depend on the forests entirely for their livelihoods. They host the largest land-based plant systems for water and carbon cycles in the atmosphere and in the groundwater. Yet they are vulnerable to commercial logging and agriculture: the two largest influences on the rainforest, causing many thousands of acres to become either deforested or barren. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that approximately 7.3 million hectares of forests (an area roughly the size of Panama) are permanently lost every year. Today, just 12% of the Brazil’s original forest remains.

A significant, immediate effect of deforestation on this scale is the loss of valuable and unique plants and animals, leading to the potential extinction of many species. Many species are losing whole populations at such a rate that threatens their genetic variability and thus their ability to adapt to climate change and other forms of environmental adversity. Functioning ecosystems are wiped out. As a carbon storage system, the lost forests contribute to some 20-25% of global CO2 emissions through release of stored carbon dioxide. The loss of moisture from the forests reduces the production of rain clouds, leading to less regional rainfall, risking large scale desertification. Long term vicious cycles are unleashed. Further far reaching effects are only beginning to be understood.

For affected communities, for whom the forest is their life, deforestation brings violence, conflict and forced migration, often to nearby cities. Communities’ land rights often remain unclear or are blatantly violated. The biological, economic and cultural importance of their attachment to the land is often ignored by logging companies. In some recent commercial attempts to establish large scale oil palm plantations, communities cite a lack of transparency by the companies and illegal clearing of land despite their lack of consent22. Many express concern that their governments or regional authorities fail to defend their interests.

© leoffreitas for openDemocracy via Creative Commons/flickr. Forest converted to farmland, Matto Grosso, Brazil.

The large number of cases suggest that illegality, corruption and over-exploitation are endemic to the logging industry and their practices. To fill the gap of more widespread and stringent regulation, efforts to reform the logging industry include voluntary certification and marginal reforms, yet their success is often overestimated23. Even selective logging opens forests up to severe degradation, fire risk, illegal logging, and wildlife poaching, and makes the ultimate destruction of the forests more likely. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, a third of the forest area that was “selectively” logged in 2000 was completely cleared by 200424. Products such as soy, maize, palm oil, rice and sugar are identified as key commodities driving large scale clearance of forests.

According to the FAO and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), five factors give rise to a lack of forest law compliance: failings in the policy and legal frameworks, insufficient enforcement, lack of information, corruption, and market distortions25.Meanwhile governments are not on track to meet the targets set to halt biodiversity loss under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)26.

In our view, when individuals act despite knowing the threat from their acts to the survival of ecosystems – for example, from economic activities or from regulatory approval of such activities, which gravely or irreparably imperil the conditions of survival of a given ecosystem - this should constitute a crime against future generations.

Read other examples of crimes against future generations: Arctic Drilling, Bottom Trawling, Cultural Heritage Destruction, Denying Girls an Education, Nuclear Weapons, Casino Finance

"Yes moko, just like the sea which has to move its tides
so we can collect Kaimoana at certain times.
Rules give harmony to our lives
so we live with
minimum conflicts.
Working in harmony with others, ae moko, it’s nature’s
act of saying,
Let us make music all together
if not in reality — then make it your dream."

WFC Councillor Pauline Tangiora

Future Justice…

...is about thinking and acting differently, based on respect, dignity and mutual trust

…considers not just what is happening now, but the effects of our actions in the years, decades and centuries to come

… is a means of creating new rules for how we live and work, pass laws and run countries

…is the giving of rights to the poorest, the weakest, the ignored, to the planet and to the other living creatures we share it with

…is a protection for all the people yet to be born,  whose lives we are blighting before they have even started

…is about what we do now.  Our actions today will determine the conditions of life for centuries to come