As deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest declined over the past three years, the country’s leaders crowed that they had found the recipe for stopping the destruction of the world’s most diverse ecosystem.By expanding the area of protected rain forest by more than 60 percent while allowing controlled logging, Brazil’s government said it had cracked down on the illegal clearing that’s consumed a fifth of the rain forest.
The celebration ended cold last month, however, when satellite images revealed that deforestation had exploded late last year in areas that regulators thought were under control.
As much as 2,700 square miles of the forest were cleared over the last five months of 2007, an area bigger than the state of Delaware and equal to more than 60 percent of the total deforestation registered over the previous 12 months.
Even more worrisome, the deforestation intensified in November and December, a period usually marked by heavy rains and a drop in forest clearing.
Now, Brazilian officials are going back to the drawing board to figure out what went wrong and how to tackle monumental problems like endemic lawlessness and land disputes, which have long stymied governments.
After releasing the numbers, the federal government launched emergency measures that have included banning logging and possibly cutting government farm credits in 36 cities whose boundaries stretch far into the jungle. The cities accounted for more than half of the total area confirmed lost during the last five months of last year.
The country’s environment minister, Marina Silva, has blamed agriculture for the spike in deforestation and challenged farmers to halt all jungle clearing.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the federal government needed to enlist the help of cities, governors and civil society to reverse the trend.
”Ending deforestation is a very complicated goal,” said Jose Heder Benatti, president of the land management agency of the northern Brazilian state of Para, where much of the deforestation has taken place. “I would say reducing deforestation to zero is impossible. So we have to look at what we can do.”
Whether Brazil succeeds will have global consequences.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cleared and burned tropical forest worldwide are a quarter of all such emissions.
Brazil is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, almost solely on the strength of emissions from deforestation, according to the World Resources Institute of Washington.
”This demonstrates that the government has less control than they realized,” said Thomas E. Lovejoy, president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington. “They underestimated the market forces and overestimated the effectiveness of enforcement.”
Critics ranging from environmentalists to ranchers said regulators couldn’t monitor a wilderness the size of the entire western United States.
Other economic factors, including a slump in commodity prices, explain why deforestation dropped in previous years, said Paulo Barreto, senior researcher for the Brazilian environmental group Imazon.
”The government took some good actions, but the economics have more power,” Barreto said.
Source: Miami Herald
What? People will completely ignore the government in order to maximize their income? Who would have ever guessed?