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Climate Change

14 Million Soccer Fields Of Amazonian Rain Forest Saved From Clearcutting

A research study published in Science this month (June 2014) found that a 70% decline in Brazilian Amazon deforestation could be an indication that effective management of the expanding agricultural sector is possible.

Image Credit: Phil P. Harris, Wiki Commons

One of the leading organizations behind the study was the Earth Innovation Institute in San Francisco, CA. (There were seven others that contributed to the research as well, like Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará, Bairro Fátima.)

Some key points from the study paper:

  • 86,000 square kilometers of rainforest have been spared by farmers and ranchers. This area was reported to be equivalent to about 14 million soccer fields
  • 3.2 billion tons of C02 kept out of the atmosphere by keeping forests intact
  • 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions results from deforestation.

One factor contributing to the decline in rainforest deforestation is Greenpeace’s campaigns to raise awareness about the expansion of soy farming that was causing deforestation. Another was a rapid drop in the soy bean market, which created an opportunity for policy reform to create incentives for farmers to use more existing land and to  destroy less rainforest.

After that 2005-2007 period, government intervention set up penalties for farmers that operated in Brazilian counties with high deforestation rates. Norway’s pledge of one billion dollars to reduce deforestation might have played a role as well, but there is still debate about its effectiveness.

“Farmers are frustrated. They are tired of top-down approaches and big UN declarations, and they aren’t seeing price premiums from certifications.” We’ve made great strides, but to lock them in we need to start integrating positive incentives too. We have to help farmers get on the right path,” explained Executive Director of the Earth Innovation Institute, Daniel Nepstad.

This is a fascinating insight, because top-down management too often does creation friction, because the people on the front lines don’t get to contribute their own information to the decision-making process. The success in slowing Brazilian rain forest loss is not permanent, meaning that current efforts and new steps must be taken to help it continue.

Demand for beef and soy products could upset the fragile balance that has been newly achieved. Although this may be a questionable connection, perhaps it would be wise to reduce or eliminate one’s consumption of McDonald’s hamburgers, if there is any concern for protecting the Amazon rainforest. McDonald’s reportedly has used Brazilian beef in some of its burgers for decades.

The Amazonian rain forest is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, with potentially a large number of species that have not yet been documented by science.


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