New research reported in the current issue of Nature and a report from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental na Amazônia — IPAM) shows that roads planned by the Brazilian government
will, under current conditions, lay waste to about a third of the Amazon forest.
IPAM and Woods Hole Research Center scientists designed a new computer model, using the thirty-year record of satellite monitoring to predict the consequences of the projected roads.
“Paving these roads will cut costs for big soy farmers,” said Woods Hole scientist Georgia Carvalho, “but the environmental costs will be huge.”
Currently, about 14% of the Amazon — an area the size of France — has been deforested. With the government road-paving plan, this would increase to a third of the Amazon, or an area more than three times the size of California, over the next twenty to thirty years.
The Brazilian government proposes some $45 billion in infrastructure investments over the coming eight years, as part of the “Forward Brazil” program. The ambitious plan includes river channeling and dredging, port
improvements, energy development and pipelines in the Amazon as well as the roads.
“The Woods Hole/IPAM model is an extremely conservative, reliable prediction, based on historical satellite evidence,” said Environmental Defense senior scientist Stephan Schwartzman. “Unless the environmental costs are
considered, the real damage could be far worse.”
The IPAM model points the way to development that could avoid the uncontrolled frontier expansion that has devastated much of the world’s forests. “We need to invest in the old frontiers, on existing roads, to stimulate
regional development while we protect the forest,” noted IPAM director Ana Cristina Barros. “This means improving local roads, support for marketing, technical assistance, schools and health systems; and financial incentives that
favor sustainable forest management and permanent agriculture,” she added.
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