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Deforestation threatens Brazil's Amazon rainforest

Mist rolls through a deforested section of the Amazon rainforest on June 8, 2012 in Para state, Brazil.

photos and reporting by Mario Tama / Getty Images

The Amazon, home to 60 percent of the world’s largest forest and 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen, remains threatened by the rapid development of Brazil. The area is populated by over 20 million people and challenged by deforestation, agriculture, mining, a governmental dam building spree and illegal land speculation.

More than one million hectares of wood have disappeared in protected indigenous reserves between 1987 and 2011, according to the Brazilian government. More than 242 square kilometers in the reserve have already been destroyed according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks rainforest destruction by satellite.

A truck transports illegally harvested Amazon rainforest logs near protected indigenous land on June 10, 2012 near the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve, Maranhao state, Brazil.

Workers load charcoal, produced from illegally harvested Amazon rainforest wood, into a truck on June 8, 2012 in Rondon do Para, Brazil.

Illegal wood charcoal is used to power smelters producing pig iron to make steel for industries including U.S. auto manufacturing, according to Greenpeace. Illegal charcoal camps can result in slave labor and the destruction of rainforest on protected indigenous lands. Over 2,700 charcoal camp workers were liberated from conditions akin to slavery between 2003 and 2011, according to Greenpeace. 

A worker sweats as he works for $40 per truckload of charcoal.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

The Amazon rainforest has meant prosperous times for many in Brazil, but environmental and cultural disaster for others.

Read more about Brazil and the Rio Earth Summit

See more of Brazil’s environmental balancing act

See more of Mario Tama's work

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