Amazon deforestation: A closer look

Amazon logged over 500,000 deforestation records in 2017 alone.

A Federal investigation found that these companies were playing a ‘cat-and-mouse game with Amazon.’

And according to at least one study, leather is a more sustainable product than anything sold on Amazon.

Read on for a deeper look into the controversy.

Why this matters to Earth Day

Amazon is one of the biggest businesses in the world, responsible for billions of dollars in revenue, but almost none of the company’s revenues are from its retail operations. The business grew so large through a drastic expansion of its marketplace platform for third-party merchants.

As an increasing portion of Amazon’s revenue came from third-party sellers, the share of wood waste from deforestation rose.

By 2015, according to Washington Post reporter Alison Griswold, one-fifth of deforestation in Indonesia, a single country, was due to Amazon-connected traders selling pieces of raw, unprocessed timber.

Amazon has yet to publish official deforestation statistics. The United States and United Kingdom have sought the information from the company under international pressure.

About the study

A study published in October 2018 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution compared the consumption of luxury trunks for everyday use by American consumers and international luxury travelers, and found that American luxury trunks had more wood waste than luxury trunks sold internationally.

It was the first international study to quantify how much wood goes into luxury trunks from manufacturers like Kenwood and Mercedes-Benz.

The study found that American luxury trunks were three times more likely to contain Indonesian and Brazilian wood products than international luxury trunks, which was consistent with data released by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit anti-land-farming organization.

The paper also found that Amazon-linked trunks were about four times more likely to contain unwanted foreign materials than other US trunks, which, while not clear-cut timber, could still have been harvested in the forest.

Who owns all this wood?

While it’s generally accepted that native forest ecosystems expand and shrink over time to adapt to changing seasons and use, they do not typically disrupt environmental systems in as rapid a fashion as Amazon-backed trunks did.

The World Bank, in a study of Indian forests covering the period 1999 to 2010, estimated that Amazon-backed trunks consumed up to 26% of the forest in several regions, and could potentially account for 20% of the food supply in many local forests.

The illegal logging practiced in many part of the Amazon rainforest has increased drastically as the Amazonian wood harvest has increased, according to the International Rainforest Campaign, which conducted a survey of deforestation in nine Brazilian states in 2016.

The study behind the study about luxury trunks that collected data from luxury trunk retailers that were not part of Amazon.

Why Amazon’s volume of wood waste matters

Amazon deforestation is a complex issue. It creates air pollution, can ultimately change the health of wildlife and ecosystems, and can have a significant economic impact on small-scale communities that rely on forests for their livelihoods.

But a recent investigation by the New York Times showed that the volume of wood waste Amazon generated last year was unsurpassed by any other commercial source.

Amazon logged over 500,000 deforestation records in 2017 alone. In the same year, 1.2 million acres of Amazon forest were clear-cut.

But perhaps most important, the volume of trash that Amazon deforestation releases into the atmosphere is far greater than what the company may realize. According to a 2016 report from researchers in Sweden, the Amazon logged nearly 6.8 million metric tons of trash in 2017.

Ineffective conservation efforts in the Amazon have grown a key economic resource—the forest—as a place to store and process trash.

How to help

So far, Amazon has opposed the use of the hashtag #AmazonSpecies at Earth Week events, saying the hashtag violates the company’s Code of Conduct because “publicity surrounding the loss of specific species and/or the loss of forests for other purposes reduces any potential benefit that may result from the removal of a particular species.”

The impact of Amazon’s enormous, dark footprint on Amazonian forests—and the Amazon—is still something to be reckoned

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