The guardians of the rainforest
The Brazilian government has tasked more than 1,000 armed agents with protecting the rainforest from exploitation. It still may not be enough.
(REUTERS/Bruno Kelly)Since 1978, the Amazon has lost some 289,000 square miles to cattle ranchers, soy producers, loggers, and industrial activity. Such rapid deforestation sparked a global "Save the Rainforest" movement in the late '80s and '90s that led to T-shirts, posters, concerts, and celebrity-led foundations.Such attention proved successful. In 1989, Brazil, which is home to roughly two-thirds of the rainforest, launched the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (known as "Ibama") — a federal agency equipped with a fierce legion of armed environmental police. Deforestation immediately began to slow.Then, in 2004, the government increased forest patrol again, cracked down on illegal harvesting activity, and offered incentives to farmers who otherwise survived off milling Amazonian lands.Together with market forces, which made Amazon staples like beef and soy less profitable, these initiatives reduced deforestation by nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2012.
(REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)The Brazilian government has also eased its stance on protecting the trees in recent years, waiving fines for illegal deforestation and delaying its plan to completely halt destructive activity until 2030. In August, Brazil officially opened parts of the Amazon to mineral miners, causing outrage among environmentalists. (The rainforest is home to hundreds of thousands of rare plants and animal species, and absorbs more greenhouse gases than any other tropical forest in the world.)"Forest loss is detrimental to the Earth's climate," The New York Times reports. "The clearing of woodlands and the fires that accompany it generate one-tenth of all global warming emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, making the loss of forests one of the biggest single contributors to climate change."Below, see how the Amazon's defenders battle for the jungle's future.