The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, but it is becoming a wonder whether or not it will survive our generation. Resting inside the Amazon river basin, it is the largest rainforest on Earth--roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States and covering some 40% of the South American continent and includes parts of eight South American countries. Massive in size and environmental importance, the total extent of the Amazon is estimated at 8,235,430 sq km (3,179,715 sq mi); by comparison, the land area of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) is 9,629,091 square kilometers (3,717,811). The region is home to about 2.5 million insect species along with some 2,000 birds and mammals. To date, at least 40,000 plant species, 2,200 fishes, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region. One in five of all the bird species in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon, and one in five of the fish species live in Amazonian rivers and streams. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 128,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone.
The diversity of plant species is the highest on Earth with some experts estimating that one square kilometer (247 acres) may contain more than a thousand types of trees and thousands of species of other higher plants. According to a 2001 study, a quarter square kilometer (62 acres) of Ecuadorian rainforest supports more than 1,100 tree species. All of this ecological wealth is in serious jeopardy due, overwhelmingly, to global meat consumption. Brazil's rise to become the world's largest exporter of beef has come at the expense of Earth's biggest rainforest, as 70% of formerly forested land, and 91% of land deforested since 1970, has been razed for cattle pasture.
The majority of the remaining land is slashed and burned to grow soy and other fodder to feed the world's pervasive livestock reserves. Already devastating Amazonian deforestation has recently jumped six fold with the expansion of soybean planting in Brazil's biggest soy producing state of Matto Grasso. Contrary to popular misconception, tofu isn't the prime suspect, as the large majority of this soy is destined for the feeding trough. In fact, 90% of all soy along with 1/3 of the world's cereal harvest and half of all corn is now diverted to feed animals.
The ruinous combination of this deforesting duo has brought the Amazon, and the world that depends on it, to the brink of disaster. Naturally one of the worlds most vital carbon sinks, the Amazon is now responsible for, at least 20% of global GHG emissions. In a typical year, the Amazon absorbs 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide; instead, during 2005, 5 gigatons of CO2 were released and in 2010, 8 gigatons were released. Once one of the wettest spots on the globe, the Amazon basin has recently experienced its worst dry spell in 100 years. This devastating drought has been sparked by the effects of deforestation on regional and global climate and now pushing the rainforest towards a tipping point where it would irreversibly start to die. Scientists at the Brazillian National Institute of Amazonian Research have concluded that, due primarily to industrial meat production, the Amazon Rainforest is on the brink of being turned into savanna or desert, with catastrophic consequences for the worlds climate. Simply put, if the Amazon dies, we die. X