Last year, 2020, was the deadliest year for conservation activists. According to Global Witness, 227 environmental activists were killed defending the environment in 2020. Most of the attacks occurred in Columbia with 65 murders, followed by Mexico with 30, the Philippines with 29, and Brazil with 20.
Community leaders and indigenous peoples were disproportionately murdered for standing up for their lands and resources, and the strain of the pandemic intensified the situation. In cases where activists were defending particular causes, 70% were defending forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, most of the attacks took place in and around the Amazon. Logging was the most related sector of resource exploitation linked to the deaths.
These issues are being exacerbated by climate change as more and more people turn to activism and more violence and threats escalate over the limited resources on the planet. Corruption and shadow economies are linked to deforestation. Culture, press freedom, and the quality of democratic governance are key factors in reducing the levels of illegal logging and managing forests sustainably. Deforestation accounts for more than 2% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so managing it is important for the world’s climate goals as well.
Don’t let the privilege of being in a richer, less openly violent country like the US fool you either. We still have many of the same problems happening with environmental degradation, including illegal logging. Some of the things you can do to help us protect our ecosystems are to get involved in environmental activism, vote for candidates that think about environmental policies and get involved with citizen science projects like Adventure Scientists timber tracking.
The Adventure Scientist timber tracking project aims to stop the illegal poaching of timber trees that is commonplace in some parts of the US. They are looking at the DNA of confiscated illegally logged timber and comparing it to samples collected by volunteers all over the country to determine from where poachers are stealing their trees. These investigative reports can be crucial to finding the criminals involved in these crimes before things can escalate to violence.