Jun 10

Cocaine and the Destruction of the Rainforests


Cocaine and the Destruction of the Rainforests

The negative impact of illegal drugs including social problems, health problems and financial problems are well-publicised and often felt more keenly because they are close to home. But fewer people, especially those whose lifestyles embrace using illegal drugs, are inclined to view the bigger picture, part of which is the devastating effect of coca, opium and marijuana production on one of the world’s most precious resources the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, covering areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru.

This rich and precious natural resource is known as the “Lungs of our Planet”, with more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen being produced in the Amazon Rainforest. Over half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests and more than 25 percent of the active ingredients found in modern cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest. Twenty percent of the globe’s fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin.

That is the good news. The bad news is that man is systematically destroying it, through, amongst other things, production of illicit drugs which is causing mass de-forestation, pollution of waterways, erosion and global climate change.

It is estimated that plantations in the Peruvian Amazon have increased sevenfold during the last 15 years, with coca plants being the largest crop under cultivation to meet the increasing demand for cocaine in Europe and the USA.

Over the past twenty years, approximately 5.9 million acres of rain forest have been lost to drug production fields in the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. To make just one gram of cocaine requires almost 300 grams of dried coca leaves.

To produce a 2.5 acre crop of coca plants, approximately 10 acres of forest must be cleared or burned (how’s that for a carbon footprint), causing air pollution, loss of habitat to thousands of plant and animal species, and soil erosion. The award-winning scientist and expert in biodiversity, Dr Edward O. Wilson, estimates that 50,000 animal and plant species per year are being lost to deforestation.

Deforestation aside, the chemical byproducts of cocaine production have resulted in a staggering estimated 14,800 tons of chemical waste being disposed of in the Amazon River Basin every year. According to one study of cocaine production in Bolivia undertaken by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, just one kilo of cocaine base required three litres of concentrated sulfuric acid, ten kilos of lime, up to 80 litres of kerosene, 200 grams of potassium permanganate and one litre of concentrated ammonia.

Annually, according to Peruvian forest engineer Marc J. Dourojeanni, coca growers dump 15 million gallons of kerosene, 8 million gallons of sulphuric acid, 1.6 million gallons of acetone, 1.6 million gallons of the solvent toluene, 16,000 tons of lime and 3,200 tons of carbide into the valley’s watershed.

In addition to this hazardous chemical waste, herbicide spraying to destroy coca fields in the war against drugs is having the undesired effect of driving growers and traffickers out of their usual territory and further into the jungle into National Park areas to escape authorities and set up more plantations without detection. Even worse, indigenous leaders claim that local farmers and their families are dying or becoming sick as a result of polluted water sources.

It is projected that the rainforest could be all but destroyed within forty years and in spite of the appalling human costs from production through to consumer, the demand for cocaine in Europe and the US continues to increase. In conclusion, whilst those who are using drugs often perceive an immediate present benefit from drug-taking, ultimately the cost will be borne in future by our children’s children – a very high price to pay for living in the moment.

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One Response to “Cocaine and the Destruction of the Rainforests”

  1. Alice Says:

    This is just horrific. It’s one thing to destroy the rainforest for things we actually need, paper, for instance (although I do understand that we need to start finding new ways of getting our neccessities and do not condone deforestation) but it’s another thing to destroy it simply to fuel our own selfish ways. Cocaine is not NEEDED by anyone. It’s just so selfish and heartless to keep buying it when there are much bigger and more important things to deal with. Is there anything we can do to help this situation? I just think that whatever anyone tries to do, no one is big enough to reach the whole of Europe and the US.

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