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Deforestation affects everything

how we feel deforestation

short by. tulasi Das
Country. uk
RUN time. 3:39 Min

“With the data so evidently on display, this short film powerfully demonstrates why we need to protect our forests.”
Ally lantz, ccFF Director

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deforestation and displacement

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ally lantz
CCFF director &

stories from
the ground

Climate change is a vast phenomenon that can feel too complex for any one person to truly understand. Part of the difficulty is that almost every aspect of it is connected through intricate feedback loops and cycles which impact each other despite showing their effects in very different ways. Air pollution is related to biodiversity loss, which is related to soil health, which is related to wildfires and so on. But exactly how specific negative environmental actions like deforestation affect other aspects of climate change can sometimes be blurry.

As modern lifestyles drive us towards further atomisation and introspection, it is easy not to notice that life on earth is a complex web, where living and non-living things affect each other constantly. When a section of forest is destroyed it affects the animals and ecosystems in that area but it also goes far beyond that.

Deforestation in Victoria National Park, Australia shows that even protected areas are not safe from rampant destruction

deforestation and displacement

Deforestation’s effects reach far beyond the damage to ecosystems and animals. Deforestation forces people from their homes whilst those who depend on forests to continue their livelihoods lose everything. Many are pushed into a world they are not used to living in, often forced not into luxurious condos in cities but shantytowns that are decidedly less safe than the ones they know. Outside of the forest, many still rely on the things it provides, which again has massive, knock-on effects that most of us could never have predicted.

Sanga Moses created a network of 460 women retailers who each earn about $150 a month from retailing his clean-cooking fuel.

In Uganda, families often rely on young girls to carry firewood to their families for fuel. As deforestation continues its march into the country, they have to travel further and further away, creating a knock-on effect that severely impacts their educations and life possibilities. Sanga Moses, a young Ugandan entrepreneur, was inspired to create an eco-friendly cooking fuel after watching his sister struggle to collect firewood from ever more distant places. “When my sister saw me, she started crying and told me she was tired of missing school to gather firewood,” he says. “This troubled me so much because I was paying school fees for my sister and wanted her to get an education.”

Despite Sanga’s brilliant work, relying on scientific solutions like these amounts to the naive belief that humanity will invent its way out of the climate crisis. The fact is that the crisis exists because human systems, which operate on a scale far too large to be repaired by singular inventions, continue to pollute and destroy the earth. So whilst these innovative solutions can solve particular problems, they only stop the effects of deforestation and do little to address the extractivist mindset that has led humanity into this situation: that the earth and everything on it is just one big, limitless resource.

breathing in deforestation

Most deforestation is carried out using a tool that brings further pollution into the world: fire. Forest clearing is most often done through fire, which is chosen for its speed and ease, in addition to the added short term benefits that charcoal from the slash and burn method has on soil health. The fires in the Amazon were not acts of God: many were intentionally set by farmers eager to clear more land.

As of August 2019, more than 80,000 fires burned there, releasing hundreds of years of stored CO2 into the atmosphere along with a host of other polluting particles. And whilst some businesses might adopt greenwashing PR strategies that imply that replanting trees offers the same carbon capture rate as the ones they have burnt, it is important to note that young trees absorb only 26% of the carbon that 10 year old trees do — and that doesn’t even include all the stored carbon that is released into the atmosphere on combustion.

The Slash and burn method of deforestation adds to the fire damage, caused by climate change, which is depleting our forests

The fires caused health problems locally and exacerbated climate change all across the world. 2,195 hospitalisations due to respiratory illness in Brazil have been attributed to these fires. Indigenous populations were particularly impacted by the ripple effects of the fires as a lack of safe water sources, minimal government policy on safe waste disposal, no food safety standards and chronic malnutrition caused 50 deaths per 1000 people in the indigenous population in 2019.

Humanrightswatch details the story of the municipal health secretary in Lábrea. “I suffer greatly myself. […] I can barely speak, and my throat and eyes dry up,” she said. “The demand in health care increases by 30 percent during the fire season, with a 20 percent increase in the purchase of medicine, equipment and inhalers.” She mentions an increase in children and older people requiring ambulances, with many relapses, as they continue to “feel the damaging effects of the fires, the dust, the smoke, the soot [and] they end up returning … [in some cases] once a week.”

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the colonial history of deforestation

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the colonial history of deforestation

Historically, deforestation has always fuelled the creation of empires. In fact, the destruction of natural ecosystems in the service of resource extraction is the unethical pillar upon which our modern, industrialised, technologically advanced society stands. This is true going as far back as the Roman empire, which built its society around mass deforestation to supply itself with wood to fuel its industry, build its weaponry and dominate other lands.

In his essay The Environmental Impacts of Colonialism, Lawrence Wood describes the importance of wood in the development of empire. “Before the industrial period’s utilisation of coal and later oil as highly efficient fuel sources, the European colonial empires were powered by wood. Charcoal produced the steel weapons and tools that Europeans used to conquer their third world colonies as well as to provide heat for domestic spaces. Structural timber was a vital aspect of building the colonial administration centres and cities needed to run their territories, as well a vital material for building the vital transportation infrastructure (in the pre-Industrial period ships and in the industrial period railroads) need to extend control over colonies.”

Deforestation creates a graveyard of dead stumps in Seattle, Washington

Deforestation was used by colonial powers as a way of strategically altering colonised land to force indigenous people from their homes and forcing them into slave labour. As Wood writes, “This ecological domination of a territory would pave the way for the political domination of its indigenous peoples, who, left without traditional means of subsistence, had to choose between relocation (to marginal, remote, or otherwise occupied areas) or to accept the new role offered by the colonial society.” The distressing similarities between this strategy and contemporary global capitalism’s displacement of indigenous peoples in the name of agricultural production reaffirms that this era of neo-imperialism still relies on the old systems of oppression that colonialism created.

A historical pride that allows people to think the Global North is somehow superior, and built not on merit, but on their early advancements in the savage arena of war and their military dominance of recent centuries which gave them the luxury of rewriting history to portray well evolved, sustainable societies as primitive. Nature was just another barrier which colonialism obliterated in order to stoke the fires of expansionism and paved the way to the creation of an unsustainable world.

Indigenous Land Rights

Many areas of high deforestation are instances of unlawful land seizures that displace indigenous communities from their territory. This is an abuse of human rights and an inexcusable assault on nature which removes stewards of the land who have lived within natural systems peacefully for generations. One solution to help eliminate indigenous displacement is a wide-scale handover of land back to those people and the utilisation of indigenous practices that sustain and nourish forest ecosystems.

Artist Phillipe Echaroux projects the faces of the indigenous Surui people on to forests to show the real lives that are being destroyed by deforestation

Namati are an indigenous rights group who are working to establish legal rights for indigenous people in Brazil to fight against the Bolsonaro government’s rampant deforestation in the Amazon. Indigenous people have lived in harmony with the earth for thousands of years and are the right people to lead a rethinking of humanity’s relationship with the land and the ecosystems that exist on it.

To do this, Namati’s Legal Empowerment Network brings together 2661 organisations and 10115 individuals from over 160 countries, spreading knowledge, resources, campaigning techniques to create a global movement to protect indigenous land rights. They have already achieved land justice gains in India, Myanmar, Kenya and Sierra Leone in addition to providing 155 community paralegals to help indigenous communities fight for their land. Through their work, the law is being used as it was always intended to be used: in service of people and planet.

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