The 30 million people - almost a Canada - who live in the forest want better lives, and so do millions more Brazilians. It does not follow that these can only be achieved by blindly harvesting the trees, digging out the minerals, damming the rivers, clearing the forest for pastures.
I'm a long-time fan of the Globe and Mail's Stephanie Nolan, but her more recent work on Brazil has been above and beyond the already high standard I've come to expect from her. This Saturday, January 27th, the Globe published her latest long piece from the paper's Brazil office, which focuses on the Amazon's deforestation crisis. Nolan and her team take off on a 2,000km trip along the BR-163, the North-South highway artery which connects Mato Grosso to Pará. With beautiful images and a wide variety of testimonies, Nolan describes the different economic forces contributing to the deforestation and destruction that threatens the Amazon. Agroforestry, cattle ranching, mining and logging are exposed as the drivers of deforestation in Nolan's rich and compelling prose. Although deforestation decreased significantly between 2004 and 2014, in large part thanks to better monitoring through satellite imagery and other GIS technologies, in the past few years, it was been on the rise again. Big business in the Amazon, such as Nolan describes (and an administration in Brasilia keen to support it) has been driving new exploitative forays into the Amazon. As always, the issues are extremely complex: how to offer better livelihoods to the regions inhabitants while protecting the landscape as well? But one thing is clear: destroying the forest by opening the floodgates to multinationals is not the answer. Rather, land redistribution, and conservation policy which incorporates local communities that adopt sustainable farming methods and extraction of renewable forest resources can help to stabilize things by offering sustainable and regulated alternatives to families desperate to secure a livelihood through any possible means. Justice and increased regulation will be necessary to combat corruption in large-scale initiatives.
As Nolan says: "There is in fact compelling data to show that all of these resources would ultimately be worth more left in place. But those who hold power in Brazil today- and who are signing deals and making decisions about irrevocable steps in the Amazon- don't see it that way."
To spread consciousness about this fact is a first step in applying pressure to see a change. Read up as much as you can, think critically, and support work that spreads awareness. Read on for Ms. Nolan's article, it is certainly a compelling discussion of the urgent issues which continue to threaten the Amazon today.
Have a look at this amazing video, released by Google, showing a three-decade time-lapse of the Earth. The Google Earth KMZ file available under the discover tab allows you to play around with the time lapse feature in the Calha Norte region and see for yourself how deforestation and urban sprawl have transformed the Amazon. This video is a powerful demonstration of what GIS technologies can contribute to our understanding of political ecology, ie. how social phenomena such as urban sprawl transform our physical landscape. This increased awareness can hopefully lead to better policy to limit the negative consequences of such phenomena.
Hannah Reardon is a Montreal-based researcher trained in Political Science and Anthropology.