Conflicting Yearend Stories on Rainforest Health

December 25, 2014

The New York Time’s Justin Gillis has a story detailing reasons for optimism in restoring the world’s rainforests as a potential critical carbon sink.

But from the Guardian, a sour note on the rise of Brazil’s “Chainsaw Queen”.
Welcome any clarifications.


But now, driven by a growing environmental movement in countries that are home to tropical forests, and by mounting pressure from Western consumers who care about sustainable practices, corporate and government leaders are making a fresh push to slow the cutting — and eventually to halt it. In addition, plans are being made by some of those same leaders to encourage forest regrowth on such a giant scale that it might actually pull a sizable fraction of human-released carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it into long-term storage.

With the recent signs of progress, long-wary environmental groups are permitting themselves a burst of optimism about the world’s forests.

“The public should take heart,” said Rolf Skar, who helps lead forest conservation work for the environmental group Greenpeace. “We are at a potentially historic moment where the world is starting to wake up to this issue, and to apply real solutions.”

Still, Greenpeace and other groups expect years of hard work as they try to hold business leaders and politicians accountable for the torrent of promises they have made lately. The momentum to slow or halt deforestation is fragile, for many reasons. And even though rich Western governments have hinted for years that they might be willing to spend tens of billions of dollars to help poor countries save their forests, they have allocated only a few billion dollars.

The Guardian:

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has stirred up the wrath of environmentalists by appointing a controversial advocate of agribusiness and weaker forest conservation as her new agriculture minister.

Kátia Abreu, who has been nicknamed the “chainsaw queen” by her enemies, is included in a new cabinet that rewards political allies who supported Rousseff in her recent narrow re-election victory.

Abreu is a leading figure in the “ruralista” lobby, which prompted the government to weaken Brazil’s forest code. In congressional debates and in her feisty newspaper column, she has called for more roads through the Amazon, congressional control over demarcation of indigenous reserves, more efficient monocultures, and the approval of genetically modified “terminator seeds”.

The cabinet post is a step towards bigger ambitions for Abreu, a formidable political operator. In an interview with The Guardian this year, Abreu said she wanted to make Brazil the leading agricultural producer in the world. She also expressed her desire to emulate former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and said she was preparing to run for president one day.

Abreu says she is an advocate of sustainable development and insists that Brazilian agriculture can overtake the US without any further deforestation.

But her promotion has horrified many environmental campaigners. In a statement headed “Miss Deforestation is the new agricultural minister,” Greenpeace warned that the Rousseff administration was now set on an alarming course.

“By choosing Katiá Abreu, the president has confirmed that the path the government will take in the coming years will put agribusiness above the environment”, it said, claiming the senator had was a leading figure in forest destruction and suppression of the rights of rural workers and indigenous people.


10 Responses to “Conflicting Yearend Stories on Rainforest Health”

  1. pendantry Says:

    “Welcome any clarifications.”

    To be honest, it seems pretty straightforward to me. Homo fatuus brutus is still clearing the forests off the only planet it can live on at a rate of knots, and unless this species wakes up to the fact that it is messing with its breathable air by doing so, it will go the way of the dodo (and a whole bunch of other species. Some might argue it deserves its fate.

    Gaia, swirling heaven.
    Mankind blossoms, then explodes;
    The End: Just deserts?

  2. It would have been better if Gillis had not interspersed a good story on Costa Rica’s efforts with sketchy bits about Brazil.

  3. jimbills Says:

    (This post could contain a ton of links, but this stuff is searchable if interested).

    Deforestation is a very complex subject, and can’t be contained in anything but a book or a long essay. Globally, total deforestation rates are declining, but haven’t stopped. There are signs that as a nation develops, deforestation slows to ceases (and occasionally, but VERY rarely, reverses), but up to that point, the damage gets done. As development continues, too, the grasslands that were once forests, and do capture carbon as well, become concrete parking lots, buildings, and infrastructure. Estimates are that we’ve lost about 15% to 30% of global forest cover since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and about half of the world’s land mass has been disturbed by our activity. Most of that isn’t coming back because of agriculture and other land usage.

    Deforestation is roughly estimated to be 1/5 the contributor to climate change, and even with a total cease in the rate of global deforestation, that amount is pretty much locked in place. Some call for reforestation, which would help, but look at Google Maps at any place in the United States, and you’ll see it fully gridded up. It’s all accounted for privately or it’s the 28% of the U.S. that is federally owned, much of which is already forested or cannot be forested. Tell a farmer to replace his crops with trees.

    (The most shocking and irreversible impact of deforestation, though, is species loss).

    Deforestation is recently in the news because of the New York Declaration on Forests, which was in September and was a non-binding agreement on the part of several countries (although, not Brazil) and corporations to stop the rate of deforestation by 2030:

    It depends on how one spins it. It can be seen as a landmark agreement, or it could be seen as a way to kick the can further down the road without having to make immediate action. It is basically carte blanche for at least another 5-15 years, while saying after that time, nations and corporations agree to ‘steady state’ the world’s total forest cover.

    And agreements, of course, are only actions in word, not in deed.

    Brazil had been greatly decreasing its rate of deforestation until recently:

  4. redskylite Says:

    There have been a lot of conflicting articles and research on the job of forests lately with a few confusing conflicts. I trust NASA and the research discussed in this “Nature” article. Rainforests are doing a good job and we need to work at protecting them:

  5. redskylite Says:

    I also agree that science communication must improve (because of the severity of the problem) and research media releases need to be a lot better worded for the benefit of the lay. That is why I like Peter’s short straightforward videos on crocks.

    “The battle against global warming is undermined by the use of “weird weirdo words” alienating the public and confusing policymakers.”

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    “welcome any clarifications”? Me too, since I have found this to be one of the more muddled areas of discussion in the climate change world. Politicians, economists, and social scientists all running their mouths (out of both sides), with the journalists and environmentalists chasing them and the scientists bringing up the rear because the data is all too weak.

    The NYT article is a bit bright-sided, especially the parts quoted here. There is some more realistic info buried in the article if one looks. Costa Rica would be among our ten smallest states in area (about as big as VT and NH combined) and has fewer than 5 million people—-a comparative flyspeck. jimbill’s mongabay link is a good one—-much reality there about the countries that really matter. Indonesia bears close watching.

    The “Chainsaw Queen” is truly scary. Add her and the president of Brazil to the Abbot, Harper, and Cameron club. She wants to be another Margaret Thatcher? LOL She has unfortunately skipped the stage that Thatcher went through before becoming the world’s greatest advocate for unfettered free-market capitalism. Does anyone remember that Thatcher was the first world leader of any stature to warn of the dangers of AGW before she went off the supercapitalist deep end?

    A recent article in the Washington Post “clarifies” some economics behind deforestation-reforestation. A good read.

    It points out that Brazil has only reduced the RATE of deforestation in its 60% of the Amazon basin, and has quite a way to go before it begins to “reforest”. In the other five countries that cover the other 40% of the Amazon basin, the deforestation has increased three-fold in the last ten years. The article points out that these countries have financed growth and improved standards of living by exploiting and selling commodities (mostly to China), and are now trapped in a vicious cycle. Falling demand and prices impact their growth and force them to weaken environmental protections so that they can generate income and keep their economies afloat. If it becomes a choice between trees and mobs in the streets and Marxist rebel groups in the jungle, the trees WILL go.

    I myself have spent some time pursuing the science behind the idea that even if “reforestation” does occur, that the new forests will not be the same as the original ones in many ways. The “new” soil and biota will likely be much changed and may not return to their “original” state for centuries (if ever), and we are just guessing at unknowns when we try to quantify how things will be “better” if we “reforest”. I.E., if the “restored” forest is only 80% as effective at sequestering carbon as the original, we have no hope of putting Humpty -Dumpty back together all the way. The only sure bet is to NOT destroy the rainforests in the first place, and we are still kicking the can down the road there.

    • jimbills Says:

      “It points out that Brazil has only reduced the RATE of deforestation in its 60% of the Amazon basin, and has quite a way to go before it begins to “reforest”.”

      Right – that’s the key point that is glossed over by many articles on deforestation. People want a reason to hope, and yes, reducing the rate of deforestation is important, but even stopping the rate of deforestation (which is unlikely and difficult given our history and economic needs) doesn’t equal reforestation, and it doesn’t equal a stop to carbon emitting from burning wood.

      It’s not like the world is going to stop using wood all of a sudden. The New York agreement is about stopping the rate of deforestation in 15 years, which means deforestation will continue for another 15 years, at which point countries and corporations agree (non-bindingly) to plant new forests as much as they cut down. Cutting down forests won’t stop if that happens, and burning and using wood won’t stop, it’ll just be about stopping loss in the total world forest cover. We’ll still have significant loss in total world forest cover by that time, and we’ll still be burning down forests (as long as we plant new ones).

      On the Mongabay link, I noticed China’s numbers, which was really interesting. The total world forest loss would be MUCH higher if they hadn’t initiated a massive forest planting regime. Here’s an article about it:

      And another:

      The basic result is that they haven’t been as successful as hoped. They do help to a degree with climate change, but other environmental factors are at best a wash.

      Also, China brings up an important difference with deforestation in the developed world and places where economic interests drive deforestation in places like the Amazon and Indonesia. That land is now claimed. It’s owned, and in many cases being used for agricultural or other economic reasons. They won’t be “reforested” as some would hope without a severing of that ownership, which is extremely difficult to impossible in a capitalist economy. (They can be forested for economic reasons, but then they continue a cycle of growth, harvest, growth, harvest).

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Those two links add more weight to what I said about us not being able to “put it together” again. The so-called reforestation is not restoring the lost original biota, but is replacing it in many places with “plantations” of non-native plants that are not adapted to local conditions and do not do well. The fact that they are meant to be harvested also means that they will not be as effective as the original forests until they are perhaps fully grown, at which time they will be harvested and replaced with seedlings. Rows of foot high plants do not a rainforest make.

        And we are not cutting the forests because we want the wood so much (except for things like teak). Clearing land for crops, pasture, and palm oil plantations have been the major drivers. The Costa Rica article mentions that pineapple plantations are the new problem there.

        The New York agreement is just more self-serving BS like the Kyoto agreement. Eyewash and window-dressing. Just another case of mankind fiddling while the planet burns.

        You say that “The total world forest loss would be MUCH higher if China hadn’t initiated a massive forest planting regime”. Part of the “information muddle” I speak of is the confusion about what is and what is not working in China. If China dries out as expected with AGW, not all of those plantings will survive. It’s nice that they’re trying, but the numbers re: what they have really accomplished for the long term may be illusory.

        The picture in the U.S. is interesting. There was a huge wave of deforestation that began in the east in the 1600’s as the country was settled. It rolled west into the North woods and Pacific Northwest in the 1800’s until the old growth had been cut and many forests had been converted to farmland. Many farms were abandoned in the east and New England and the people moved to the Midwest and Great Plains in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The land played out in the east, there were a series of economic crises that hit farmers hard as well, and it just got too crowded. The forests there have regrown, and suburbia everywhere is more “woods” than anything else (with the concomitant return of beavers, whitetail deer, and Canadian geese). When you go into the forests in the east, you find the remnants of the farmer’s old stone walls everywhere, often with 60-100 year old trees growing up through them.

        There was a second wave of deforestation from 1900 to around 1950 in many places, but for the last 50-60 years we have been “managing” our forests better. I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek because the managing has been mostly to preserve the bottom lines of those who exploit the resource, and not to restore the forests to an optimal. state for wildlife. The assault on the public lands by the capitalists proceeds more strongly than ever, and Mitch and the Repugnants will start stepping it up nest week

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