Deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating rapidly since 2015. The terrible fires of 2019 are the result of increased land clearing and unsustainable practices by big agribusiness. The loss of the worlds largest rainforest is immanent, and that loss may speed climate change that puts global civilization at risk.
It will take a lot of effort and and substantial investment to turn this trend back around, but we know it can be done: deforestation in the Amazon was significantly reduced between 2005-2012.
Detailed analyses of publicly available satellite photos show that Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon enough over the past five years to lower heat-trapping emissions more than any other country on Earth— Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011
This success story continued only another year before deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil began to rise again. However, it was never sustainable, a Vox article and a paper in PNAS indicate, because it required agribusiness to find ways of being more productive on existing land rather than encroaching on the Amazon and that was going at some point to fall short of the production needed to meet global demand for Brazil’s beef, forcing economic calculations that the payments Norway has made to encourage protection of the Amazon are far too small to counter.
Deforestation in Brazil began to rise in 2013, then faster in 2015 and in late November of 2018 the Guardian reported:
Brazil has released its worst annual deforestation figures in a decade amid fears that the situation might worsen when the avowedly anti-environmentalist president-elect Jair Bolsonaro takes power.The Guardian, Nov 24, 2018
Between August 2017 and July 2018, 7,900sq kms were deforested, according to preliminary figures from the environment ministry based on satellite monitoring – a 13.7% rise on the previous year and the biggest area of forest cleared since 2008. The area is equivalent to 987,000 football pitches.
In the first 11 months of Bolsonaro’s government deforestation rose another 15% on top of these escalations.
There are reports that Bolsonaro’s election is one of the surges of Far Right politicians and parties funded by the fossil fuel industry. Bolsonaro is a frequent climate denier and insists that efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest are really wealthy countries trying to prevent Brazil from threatening their dominance. This is rendered more plausible, and deforestation made more profitable, by America’s trade war with China, which has substantially increased demand for Brazil’s beef.
The problem is bigger than Bolsanaro. The problem is simply that Brazil has no substitute for the revenue it gains by encroaching on the Amazon. The government and the interests it represent are driven by short-term calculations.
Short-term profit motives fail to account for the looming decline in rainfall in Brazil that will accompany the collapse of the Amazon. Recent reports indicate the Amazon could lose the ability to create the precipitation rainforests require as early as 2021, and even that could prove optimistic.
We need a solution that ends deforestation NOW by creating an overwhelming net benefit for Brazil from preserving the Amazon rainforest.
The challenge we face in Brazil is not unique. Destruction of tropical rainforest, including the Amazon, is on the rise in other countries in the region as well. This is occurring despite new findings that CO2 emissions from the destruction of tropical rainforest is six times greater than previously estimated. This is even more alarming when combined with humanity’s toppling of the most dreaded of all climate tipping points, the thaw of Arctic permafrost, 70 years ahead of schedule. The loss of the Amazon to deforestation is the 2nd most dreaded tipping point, and now reports indicate we are less than two years away from toppling THAT tipping point, causing a massive spike in CO2 emissions.
The problem at bottom is that, even as we teeter on the edge of extinction, we have yet to recognize the value of functional ecosystems. Biomes like the Amazon rainforest play so great a role in removing CO2 and host so much precious biodiversity that their loss makes the looming threat of our extinction almost insurmountable. Ironically, the loss of the Amazon is certain to do great harm to agriculture in Brazil, but the time horizons governing this industry and its anti-environmental ethos work to obscure this critical fact.
John D. Liu, advocate for large scale ecosystem restoration projects and creator of the film Green Gold, explains in that film the basic logical flaw in our global economic institutions which have led humanity to edge of extinction:
The source of wealth is the functional ecosystems. The products and services that we derive from them are derivatives. It’s impossible for the derivatives to be of more value than the source. And yet in our economy now as it stands, the products and services have monetary value, but the source, the functional ecosystems, are zero.
This cannot be true, its false. So we’ve created global economic institutions based on a flaw in logic. If we carry that flaw in logic from generation to generation we compound the mistake.
There’s nothing wrong with money. The problem is what money is based on. If money is based on functional ecosystems, then the future will be beautiful. If money continues to be based on production and consumption of goods and services, we’ll turn everything into a desert.
What is the future for all children, and our children’s children, and generations to come? Here in the foothills of the Andes, slash and burn agriculture is being practiced today. The people who are doing this think they are getting some short-term economic gain, but what’s the loss to biodiversity, biomass, soil fertility and hydrological function?John D. Liu, Green Gold
Today the only people who consistently champion and defend surviving ecosystems are indigenous. We do not have as yet a popular consensus in any wealthy, Western country on the urgent need to put at least a third of the Earth under protection by 2030, buying intact wilderness and securing it in public trusts or paying the countries where it resides more to preserve their wilderness more than they can hope to gain by destroying it.
This is the case we make in our campaign to boycott Amazon the company until Jeff Bezos uses the small fraction of his $110 billion net worth it would take to make payments to Brazil which DWARF the revenue the country can hope to gain from deforestation of the Amazon.