The Other Amazon


Writers are obsessed with Amazon–sales, ranking, review policy, whatever. If only we had the same obsession for the Amazon that matters most.

You’ve probably heard of the other Amazon, the lungs of the world, over two million square miles of forest in South America, most of it in Brazil. Well, we’re losing 2,000 square miles of rain forest every year. The Brazilian government claims it has reduced deforestation, and on one hand that’s true. Trusting their information, deforestation is down over 80% from what it had been in 2004. That’s good news. But the problem is obvious. The pie is still getting smaller, and that will affect all of us. All of us.

To combat the effects of global warming and drought, deforestation needs to completely stop. Not only that, an area roughly the size of Texas needs to be reclaimed.

Those are the facts. Here’s where it gets complicated. It involves criminals, the poor and politicians.

Criminals are the illegal loggers who steal protected wood from the forest. The police are understaffed, underpaid, and unable to do much about it. Groups such as the rubber tappers have taken it into their hands to be the guardians of the forest. Rubber tappers are just that; they take the sap from rubber trees in order to scrape out a living. If there’s such a thing as honorable vigilantes, they’re it. Unfortunately it reminds me of the Finns throwing Molotov cocktails at Russian tanks in WWII, a losing cause.

By the way, according to the US Department of Agriculture, America imported $282 million of tropical hardwood last year, and about a third of it came from Brazil’s Amazon. There is a law against importing poached wood, but how can anyone really tell if it’s legal or not?

Now for the poor. Some of them are the ones who actually cut down the trees for the illegal loggers because they are literally starving. Others have been driven to remote areas of the forest because they have nothing, and they’re burning chunks of the forest down in order to clear land for raising cattle. Roughly two-thirds of Brazil’s deforested land is used for cattle ranching. So why burn the trees? The ash makes the land fertile again.

This brings us to the politicians. I’ll give you one example. There’s a Brazilian senator named Ivo Cassol. He sits on his senate’s environmental committee. Some have called him the founding father of deforestation. He reportedly made all his wealth from logging and cattle ranching. Where? In Rondonia, a state in Brazil, where there used to be, yep, a whole lot of rainforest.

Cassol said in a recent interview on National Public Radio, “Is it fair to ask Brazil to do all the conservation . . . are we to be the slave of other countries? The lungs of the United States? The lungs of other countries? Even though they send us a pittance to pay for conservation? I won’t accept it. No.” Food for thought or to choke on? Both. But it’s the reality of the situation, and as usual it comes down to money.

Geologist Ben van de Pluijm of the University of Michigan makes a good point when he says, “The earth is not in danger. It’s humanity that’s in danger.”

I suggest you check out NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro’s excellent series on the Amazon, where I drew much of my information.The link is posted above. Simply click on the image.



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