Five ways humans are hurting – and helping – the Amazon
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Five ways humans are hurting – and helping – the Amazon

At 7 million square km (2.7 million square miles), the Amazon is the world’s largest and most biodiverse rainforest. Sixty percent of the so-called “lungs of the Earth” is located in Brazil, with the remainder spread between Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

Since humans arrived in the Amazon more than 11 centuries ago, humans have exploited the riches of the rainforest for food, shelter and energy. But it wasn’t until colonization, followed by subsequent large-scale agricultural development and eventual industrialization, that our footprints began to significantly impact one of Earth’s greatest treasures.

Though we usually destroy, we also explore, document and try to protect the Amazon. Here are five different ways humans interact with the lungs of the Earth.

  1. Burning

Though people often clear forestland with controlled burning, deforestation for the purposes of farming and logging contribute to wildfires as well. Fires can also occur due to rising temperatures and droughts that are influenced by man-made climate change.

Check out this animated infographic from InfoAmazonia to see all the fires in the Amazon region from January 2012 to December 2014. The areas where fires have been most frequent are located in the southeastern portion of the Brazilian Amazon.

  1. Farming

It’s no surprise that vast parts of the Amazon have been cleared and transformed into plantations for a variety of crops and animal husbandry, especially connected to the beef industry. In order to slow deforestation, major soybean traders introduced a moratorium on the purchase of soy grown in the Brazilian Amazon on land cleared after 2006. This voluntary act, which was adopted under pressure from NGOs, retailers and activist groups, has been extremely effective in halting the rate of deforestation.

What we found is that before the moratorium, 30 percent of soy expansion occurred through deforestation, and after the moratorium, almost none did; only about 1 percent of the new soy expansion came at the expense of forest.

—Holly Gibbs, professor of environmental studies and geography, UW-Madison Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (via

  1. Observing

As is the case with the NASA satellite data used in the fires infographic, observing the rainforest from above can tell us a lot about what kind of damage we are doing. A joint German-Brazilian effort to monitor weather and greenhouse gases has resulted in the construction of an observation tower in São Sebastião do Uatuma in Amazonas State, Brazil. At 325 meters, the structure is taller than the Eiffel Tower.

Read more about the tower here.

  1. Documenting

The Amazon is a treasure trove of biodiversity, including medicinal plants and as-of-yet undiscovered forms of life. It is also home to some of the most isolated pockets of humanity in the world, many of which are at risk due to activities driven by national and global economics, greed and neocolonialism. Individuals like Portuguese photographer Daniel Rodrigues are documenting the way of life of tribes like the Awa-Guaja people and showing the world how some cultures can live off the Amazon without destroying it.

Check out a gallery of Daniel’s work here. 

  1. Traversing

Roads built throughout the Amazon are not only opening up the territory to civilization and infrastructure. A recent study shows that roads for oil and gas trucks are resulting in deforestation, human rights issues and biodiversity loss, including over-hunting.

The hydrocarbon frontier keeps pushing deeper into the Amazon and there needs to be a strategic plan for how future development takes place in regards to roads. We pay particular attention to access roads because they are a well-documented primary driver of deforestation and forest degradation.

—Matt Finer, Amazon Conservation Association (via the Guardian)

Humans don’t only interact with this natural treasure in negative ways, but we need to take many more positive steps to stop the destruction and start to make up for the damage we’ve already caused.

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