Deforestation in Brazil up slightly from last year
The rates of Amazon deforestation in Brazil have been varying in recent years. Amazon deforestation used to be quite extensive, but than a period of a sharp drop in forest destruction ensued. Based on the analysis of satellite imagery by Brazil's National Space Research Institute, the rates of Amazon deforestation in 2008 were 20% lower than two years ago, but 4% up from last year. The rates of deforestation are believed to depend on the state of the world's economy. As commodity prices go up and the demand for farming land increases, deforestation is bound to increase to make space for new crops.
News out of the Brazilian Amazon has been up and down in recent years. After a steep rise in deforestation followed by a sharp drop in recent years, the rate of forest loss was back up slightly last year, according to new figures.
Brazil's National Space Research Institute, called INPE, recently released the numbers. For 20 years, the organization has been mapping forest loss through a program called the Legal Amazon Deforestation Monitoring Project. Every year, INPE scientists analyze dozens of satellite images to see what has changed.
The most recent images showed a loss of 11,968 square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of forest from Brazil's Amazonian states between Aug. 2007 and July 2008. That was up nearly 4 percent from the year before, but still nearly 20 percent below the rate of loss two years earlier.
In large part, the number of trees getting slashed in the Brazilian jungle at any given time depends on what's happening in the rest of the world, said William Laurance, a tropical ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City.
For example, Laurance has documented a direct link between deforestation in the Amazon and prices of soy around the world. In the last few years, biofuel-promoting corn subsidies have pushed many American farmers to switch from growing soy to growing corn. As a result, there has been a 20 percent drop in soy production in the United States, a doubling of global soy prices, and a huge spike in deforestation in Brazil's soy-producing areas, Laurance wrote in a 2007 letter published in the journal Science.
Beef, timber, and other commodity prices also influence the race to cut trees and clear land, as does the strength of the Brazilian currency.
The land is difficult to regulate and, despite its environmental goals, the government continues to fund dams, highways, gas pipelines and other massive infrastructure projects that are, Laurance said, "going to open up the heart of the Amazon like a zipper."