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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon and Lifestyles


A few weeks ago some Brazil and US based researchers pointed out that deforestation reduction in Brazilian Amazon is a viable possibility as the investment costs would be soon outweighed by multiple benefits associated to environment preservation. This optimistic view is supported by the Brazilian government commitment to defend rainforests announced at the United Nations climate treaty already two years ago. In fact there has been a recent substantial decrease in the deforestation rate with respect to the decade 1996-2005 in which the forest clearing proceeded at a rate of about 20000 square kms per year.

While Brazil is certainly not the worst among the countries which are destroying their forest covers, what happens in Brazil matters everybody worldwide due to the size of the land: thus the above mentioned clearing rate has been estimated to account for above 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Stopping such a disaster alone may lead to reduce the world global CO_2 emissions by at least 2%, a remarkable achievement.

Traveling from the Venezualan border down to Manaus, you may spot grey columns due to fires devouring forests far away. Sometimes you may even breathe the smoke. The pattern is the same in Rondonia, Parà and Mato Grosso while the Amazon State in itself is likely doing better as far as land management and extension of natural protected area is concerned. Three are the main causes of deforestation:

1) growing human pressure due to too high birth rate. Locals need some space for main staple crops such as rice and manioc. Moreover, trade of high quality wood ensures good revenues and incentives illegal logging. Then even the clearing of a few hundred square meters may be worth for some families: easy to do and hard to be detected.

2) beef industry needs land to be converted into pastures.

3) soybean industry needs land for farming.

Causes 2) and 3) are intertwined as cattle (Brazilian, US, European) is fed by soybean, quite often genetically modified varieties.

There have been some interesting Brazilian government moves to exclude from the market beef and soy from deforested Amazon areas but it seems to me that environmental awareness on these key issues is still very weak nationwide (and altogether in South American countries). Masses gulp down daily huge quantities of meat wondering very little about the origin of what they are putting in their mouths. They love picanha, roditio, beef based comida por kilo plus whatever is fat and sweet. Incidentally even bread generally contains sugar in Brazil, a simply disgusting result.

Then, fighting mass ignorance seems precondition to preserve natural environments, reduce deforestation rate and also reduce obesity rate. Indeed worldwide spread obesity is a plague closely related to forest clearings but the link between the two phenomena is not always recognized as such.

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