The Amazon, Climate Change and You

Amazon Rainforest, the largest tropical forest...
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“Everything is ONE, but the one is off balance.”– lyrics from “We Don’t Stop” by Michael Franti.

We truly live in an interconnected and biodiverse world and what happens in one place on the planet definitely affects everything else. No where else is this more apparent than in the Amazon Rain Forest, long called the lungs of the planet.

In the book, No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet, author Nikolas Kozloff writes, “Acting as the planet’s air conditioner, the Amazon absorbs millions of tons of greenhouse gases that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. Yet every year thousands of square miles of this rainforest are destroyed—thus unleashing a catastrophic bomb of stored carbon that only adds to the world’s deteriorating climate conditions.”

60-70% of deforestation in the Amazon results from cattle ranches.Brazil has become the world’s leading beef exporter,” Kozloff says,”raising more cattle than all 25 EU members combined.” Europe is the largest importer of Brazilian free-range, grass-fed beef. This demand has fueled massive amounts of illegal ranches that the government has little or no control over. Inside Brazil, cattle account for 29% of the methane produced and 10% of the global total, Koszloff tells us.

Kozloff’s book reveals, that other parts of Amazonian cattle wind up in consumer products. “Chinese tanneries that receive Bertin’s (Brazilian cattle giant) leather in turn supply several manufacturers working for well-known shoe brands such as Nike, Adidas/Reebok, and Clarks…Bertin supplies leather to US based Eagle Ottawa, which in turn sells the leather to auto-manufacturers. If you drive  a Chevy Malibu, Cadillac CTS, Honda Accord, Toyota Tundra, Lexus IS-F, as well as some Audi and Mercedes models, then you have Amazonian leather in your upholstery…IKEA and Ethan Allen get their furniture from a Chinese supplier linked to Bertin.”

In addition to the cattle industry, deforestation is caused by clear-cutting land for agriculture. Worldwide demand for soy has turned Brazil into a mega-exporter of the crop. Somewhat ironic, Kozloff reports, “Soy magnates contribute to deforestation, which in turn exacerbates global warming. Climate change gives rise to drought, which makes it difficult for soy to thrive.” In efforts to “help” farmers, Kozloff tells us, large bio-tech companies, like Monsanto are seeking to patent genetically-modified (GM) crops that can withstand drought and other environmental distresses.

Logging also fuels Amazon deforestation.  A mahogany tree takes 75 years to mature in the Peruvian Amazon, but “one mahogany can produce $100,000 of high quality furniture.” According to a 2005 calculation, Kozloff cites, selective logging was responsible for 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions that can be added to the back of another 400 million tons of CO2 emissions from deforestation.

Another elephant in the room of emissions from deforestation is ethanol production. While ethanol derived from sugarcane seems both more economical and environmentally desirable than ethanol from corn, it overlooks one important fact. Kozloff tells us,”One couldn’t pick a worse place to harvest cane than Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. There, sugarcane crops have lead to deforestation, and paradoxically, more carbon emissions.”

Kozloff delves much deeper into the social justice and economic factors that affect deforestation in the Amazon as well as the grizzly environmental impacts. (Yes- there are more than I’ve listed here.) The book is definitely recommended.

So what is the solution? I think back to something Gaia scientist James Lovelock wrote. To paraphrase, somewhat less eloquently, we should store our nuclear waste in the Amazon rainforest. Any detriment or shortened life expectancy to animals living there would be greatly offset by being able to live out their lives undisturbed by humans. But short of turning the Amazon into a nuclear waste depository, what can be done?

Kozloff mentions a program that was hotly debated in Cancún (COP16) and appears to have general international consensus. That program is called REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. REDD’s “central notion is that business or governments in the Global North compensate poor countries for preserving their forests, either by paying into a fund or by buying credits on the carbon markets.”

REDD has morphed into REDD+, a program that includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The UN predicts “financial flows for greenhouse gas emission reductions from REDD+ could reach up to US$30 billion a year. This significant North-South flow of funds could reward a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions and could also support new, pro-poor development, help conserve biodiversity and secure vital ecosystem services.”

However you feel about REDD and REDD+, you will be sure to hear more about them in the future as a means to address Amazon deforestation and climate change.

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