Cocaine use doesn’t just affect addicts or lead to crime–It also leads to the demise of RAINFORESTS. Scientists are reporting new evidence that cultivating coca bushes, the source of cocaine, is speeding up destruction of rainforests in Colombia and threatening the region’s "hotspots" of plant and animal diversity. In fact, the tropical rainforests in Brazil are now on FIRE!

The findings underscore the need for establishing larger protected areas to help preserve biodiversity. Not so long ago it was thought that tropical rainforests in the Brazilian Amazon region were immune to fire thanks to the high moisture content of the growth beneath the top tree cover. But the severe droughts of 1997-98, 2005 and 2010 have changed that. These severe shortages were probably driven by interacting, large-scale climatic events, with the warming of the Atlantic, which also drives hurricanes affecting the Caribbean and south-eastern United States, increasingly outweighing the drying effects of El Nino in the Pacific. The droughts are becoming more frequent and more severe and are generating the conditions conducive for the wildfires affecting vast areas of previously unburnt Amazonian rainforests which are the largest in the world and home to 21 million people.

It’s a wake-up call about things to come as the climate changes. The pace of deforestation in Colombia has accelerated over the past 20 years, even as population growth has slowed and the economy has shifted from agriculture to other revenue sources. So what’s causing this? This increase in deforestation overlaps with an increase in the cultivation of coca for cocaine production, and the country accounted for 75% of the world’s coca in 2000. Since rainforests contain about 10% of the world’s plant and animal species–some of which become the basis of new medicines–deforestation represents a serious threat to global biodiversity.

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