Roads lead to Amazon 'destruction'
BBC Online News
19th Jan 2001
The Amazon forest in Brazil, the world's largest remaining wilderness,
could vanish within two decades, a new study reveals. If these development
plans go through, we'll lose the largest remaining wilderness on Earth
and a huge amount of the world's remaining biodiversity.
According to the journal Science, researchers in the United States
computer models to forecast the impact of a development scheme called
"Advance Brazil". Under the scheme, the Brazilian Government
expects to spend $40bn over the next seven years on highways, railways,
hydroelectric projects and housing in the Amazon basin.
If the researchers' estimates are correct, barely five percent of the
Amazon will survive as pristine forest by 2020. The rest will be destroyed
by logging, infrastructure, oil exploration and new towns.
of Indians live in remote reservations in rainforests Climate change
More than two million hectares of the Amazon are currently being cleared
every year, and even conservative estimates forecast the clearing rate
will continue to rise. The loss of the Amazon could affect the climate,
as it plays an important role in soaking up carbon dioxide. Brazil also
has the world's highest diversity of plant and animal species,
but if the Amazon disappears, so will much of its biodiversity.
42% of the region would either be totally deforested or heavily degraded
by 2020 Less than 5% of the land will survive as pristine forest The
forest destruction could increase by more than 25% a year The most
favourable scenario predicts a 14%-a-year escalation of deforestation
"Unfortunately, there is little government control in the Amazonian
frontier," said William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research
"Illegal logging and land-clearing are rampant. New roads that
cut into the
frontier almost always initiate a process of spontaneous colonization,
logging, hunting and land speculation that is almost impossible to stop.
"The only way to control these processes is to control where the
roads are located."
One of the researchers, Scott Bergen of Oregon State University, says
it is not too late to preserve at least some of the world's greatest
rainforest, at the same time as pursuing economic development in Brazil.
But, he says, there is an urgent need for a fresh approach.
This might include the selling of carbon credits, a practice which
countries to achieve their pollution reduction targets by buying the
unused emissions quotas of other nations.
This could net the Brazilian Government up to $2bn dollars a year,
which it could use in alternative development programmes that had less
of an impacton the Amazon forest.
"We've heard a lot about ecotourism, sustainable forestry and
conservation efforts in the Amazon," Bergen said. "But if
these development plans go through, we'll lose the largest remaining
wilderness on Earth and a huge amount of the world's remaining biodiversity.
"And that, of course, doesn't even consider the enormous impacts
carbon cycle, global climate and greenhouse warming." Some researchers
have sought to challenge the importance placed on the
tropical rainforests by environmentalists. They point out that these
forests did not exist even on the scale they do today just 15,000 years
ago, when grasslands were probably the dominant ecosystems. The dissenters
say the obsession with saving the Amazon forest represents an scientifically
unjustified Northern agenda that would have the effect of
denying indigenous peoples economic growth and prosperity.