Deforestation In The Amazon Basin

pictureOften statistics are taken out of context or selectively used to sensationalize a situation. When this happens the misinformation often has great consequences to the individual exposed to seemingly valid information. Most information gained by an individual is used in the future as a reference to process new information and form conclusions that are in turn invalid.

I have found, in many cases, greatly distorted information regarding rainforests around the world. In the Volume 17 - Issue 2, of the Amazona Quarterly “Destruction of Amazon Jungle Hits 5-Year High,” I believe I have found just such a case. The information stated is correct but the more important information not reported greatly distorts the overall perception of the Brazil Amazon Basin situation.

Brazil is a second world country in many ways similar to the United States in the 1940’s. In the next few years Brazil will be experiencing similar growing pains as the U.S. did from the 40’s through the 80’s. Brazil has the advantage of our history and the knowledge and solutions we gained in our own expansion.

pictureThe people of Brazil have as much right to utilize their resources as we have in the U.S. To this end it will be necessary for them to utilize the resources of the Amazon basin for many domestic programs. Already they have been very progressive in attempting to develop sustainable uses to maintain as much of the rainforest as possible.

Fun Facts:
-- According to the US Forest Service the Continental United States has only 4% of its original forest left. All the rest of the forest we now have has been regrown over the last 100 years.

-- Between 1800 and 1910 the U.S. cut down in excess of 1,000.000 square miles of forest. -- Brazil’s Amazon basin has ~ 1,250,000 square miles. So far they have only lost an aggregate of ~ 187,000 square miles. This represents somewhere between 15 and 16%. At -- Brazil’s current rate of forest destruction it will take about 138 years to finish the job. By then most of it would have grown back.

-- In 2004 the findings of the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia reported that a full 85% of the Amazon was still standing. NASA research concurs with their findings.

-- Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company, one of several large U.S. companies involved in clear cutting forest, cuts more than 300,000 acres of timber every year. That works out to about 470 square miles, and they are just one company.

-- Each year the U.S. and Canada harvest trees from a much larger area than Brazil.

pictureIf an area is clear-cut for lumber, how many years does it take to regenerate 50% of the initial biomass? In tropical areas 50% regeneration can be achieved in about 5 years. On the negative side the last 50% can take 100 to 300 years to regenerate. In most cases the logged areas are not totally clear-cut since many of the trees have no commercial importance.

Very important to environmental conservation is the productivity of an area. Once a group or society reaches a level where their productivity exceeds their needs, they begin to have disposable income (or resources). Brazil has a long way to go. The GDP of Brazil is $4,000.00 per person. In comparison the U.S. has a GDP of $28,000.00 per person. Brazil has a population density of 51 persons per square miles while the U.S. has 76 per square mile. These numbers indicate that as Brazil increases their GDP the potential burden on the environment should be less than it was in the U.S. due to their lower population density. On an even more positive side the birth rate in Brazil is only 1.24. During our baby boom from 1947 to 1961 the U.S. birth rate ranged between 1.5 and 2.0.

With these facts in mind it would appear that so far Brazil is doing an amazing job not destroying the rainforest. Brazil is on the road to becoming a stable country with great future potential. The likelihood of the Brazilian people to refine their systems successfully limiting the degradation is very good, much better than past record of the United States.

pictureWill 40% of Brazil’s Amazon basin be cut? There is a good possibility. We know this because we have 10,000 years history of human societal evolution. Human nature has in the past dictated that most groups of people over utilize their resources. This over utilization of resources has been in many cases the beginning of the end for most societies. We only have to look at the Romans and Mayans to find easy to understand examples. At the end of the Roman Empire most of the natural resources of Europe had been over utilized. At the end of the Mayan empire most of northern Central America was devoid of usable plants and animals. By 1910 most of the area east of the Mississippi River had been deforested. All three areas have very efficiently regenerated and, through supporting Brazil, much of this area will also regenerate.

It wasn’t until this century that groups of people have been productive enough to exceed their threshold of needs and had the luxury of conservation. The United States has been the most successful in this area. Instead of criticizing other nations for trying to improve their lives, as we have, we should benevolently extend our hand supplying information and support. We need to keep things in perspective. Even today in 2001 almost 50% of the worlds population are malnourished due to lack of suitable food. It was only in the last couple of years that 50% of the world’s population had made their first phone call. Unfortunately it is more popular to sensationalize a doomsday review of the facts. Why don’t we ever hear about Cost Rica’s record? Costa Rica has effectively preserved, through several methods, 41% of their country. Most of Central America is on the same path.