Science magazine has published a paper that is extremely important for the Brazilian Amazon. Brazilian researchers (IMAZON), in collaboration with researchers from other nations, evaluated the impact of the deforestation in the social and economic development in the affected Amazonian towns. The paper starts with some pretty impressive numbers: this country has 40% of the remaining tropical forests in the world. However, between 1998 and 2008, we took our forest down at a rate of 1,8 million ha/year (almost a third of the world’s tropical forest deforestation), releasing around 250 million tons of carbon every year. There are two patterns in Brazilian deforestation: we take the best wood first then we burn everything to make pastures or to make new crops. We are doing this conversion in a few decades, while it took centuries to other countries to do the same.
The advance of the deforestation in Brazil is justified by its advocates by the increase of the quality of life of the population around the forest areas. That’s it: environmental degradation leading to the increase of quality of life. In this context, the authors of the paper divided 286 Amazonian municipalities in 7 classes divided by when the deforestation took place and its extension. The classes ranged from pre-frontier (intact forest and no sign of the start of the deforestation) to post-frontier (severe deforestation and the shift to other economic activities). They also estimated the Human Development Index (HDI) for each municipality to estimate the development stage of each area. The HDI is the average of three other index: life expectancy, literacy and GDP per capta.
The HDI and its components in each municipality class (from the most preserved, A class, to the most degraded, G class).
As you amy observe, there is a pattern in the HDI and its components. There is a fast increase in the region HDI soon after the start of the deforestation. However, after this first moment of deforestation and resources over exploitation, there is the decrease of this index back to its original legal (there is no statistical difference between the A and G classes). This means that you may have development for a while but it vanishes with the natural resources. The authors of the paper also point out that Brazil’s HDI increased in the studied period but the HDI of A class and G class municipalities decreased.
What is the reason for this pattern? It is possible that the increase of the HDI is the result of the migration of people to the towns with intermediate deforestation levels as people with higher education levels and better financial status would arrive. However, this would not explain the sharp increase in the initial levels of deforestation, when the immigrants are largely poor people looking for a fresh start. An alternative explanation is the construction of infrastructure around the town, like roads and the initial profit with natural resources which allow a better access to services like doctors, etc. However, after a while, the profit levels decrease and the initial benefits are gone.
This shows how wrong the chaotic exploitation frame of the mind is. The whole “We are developing the Amazon region”is a lie! As everything in Brazil, only the richest benefit from the transitory development, accumulation all the profit from the natural resources. The poor are left with nothing. Deforestation do not increase the quality of life of the population that lives around the forest!
This means that it, in a first moment, is urgent to stop this model of deforestation followed by agriculture expansion. Next, we need to start the reforestation of degraded areas and to start investing in a sustainable exploitation of the forest (if such thing is possible). The authors also suggest the investment in carbon sequestration projects, as Brazil has large carbon stocks and a has advanced technologies to track changes in the forest. Once the Brazilian government understands that the forest worths more intact than destroyed, then we might understand what is development.
Rodrigues, A., Ewers, R., Parry, L., Souza, C., Verissimo, A., & Balmford, A. (2009). Boom-and-Bust Development Patterns Across the Amazon Deforestation Frontier Science, 324 (5933), 1435-1437 DOI: 10.1126/science.1174002
This post was translated by Carlos Hotta from the original published at the Brazilian blog DIscutindo Ecologia.