Amazonian Deforestation and the Brazilian Rainforest: Agent Orange Exacerbates Deforestation Issues in the Region
Amazonian Deforestation and the Brazilian Rainforest
This article was originally written and published in 2011. Names of government officials and corporate management may have changed, as well as numerical figures quoted. For more on the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam project please follow this link. For more on deforestation trends in the Amazon please visit the IMF's webpage.
The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam currently under construction on the Xingu River will generate 11 megawatts peak power production when finished. The Xingu River is one of the Amazon’s largest tributaries. The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam will cover about 400,000 hectares of rainforest and displace more than 16,000 people when all is said and done.
This is just one example of the many projects that continue to worsen the Amazonian deforestation issue in Brazil. This project comes at a time when increased violence is also plaguing the Brazilian Amazon. On May 25, 2011, leading conservationist Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva were killed in the Amazonian state of Para. Next was the murder of environmental activists Adelina Ramos and Obede Loyla Souza. This series of events in the Amazon, along with increased deforestation (as a result of failed enforcement of regulation policies) has the environmental community very worried. President Dilma Rousseff and her administration are some of the first in Brazil’s history to reform policies that allow the government to protect the Brazilian Amazon and its people.
The rate of Brazil’s deforestation is quite staggering. The Organic Consumers Association noted that in May of this year, satellite images of the Brazilian Amazon released from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) indicated an increase in deforestation in this region from 103 km2 in March and April of 2010 to 593 km2 in the same period in 2011. As they observe, this indicates a six fold increase from just a year ago. The INPE announced that the deforestation rates shown from the March 2010 to 2011 increase are not just temporary. President Rousseff and her administration have decided that more government response is needed due to both recent violence in the Amazon and deforestation measures. The Brazilian Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, said the government was creating a ‘crisis cabinet’ to investigate the increase in these violent attacks.
Agent Orange and Illegal Measures Taken
According to an analysis from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), the Brazilian Amazon has faced deforestation threats since the 1960s, but recently, Agent Orange is being employed to deforest as it wipes out everything faster and more thoroughly. However, use of this product is illegal, and the Brazilian Environmental Agency IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environmental and Renewable Resources) was first alerted by satellite photos about the use of Agent Orange in the Amazon. IBAMA officials noted that an aircraft must have flown over the forest and dropped the poison from above. According to officials, 440 acres have already been poisoned. Trees are not the only victims from Agent Orange, as a diverse and rich animal ecosystem also lives in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. In another raid, IBAMA officials found 4 tons of Agent Orange waiting to be released into the Amazon. The rancher involved was fined US $1.3 million. This only underscores an even larger issue for Brazil however.
Ability to control illegal deforestation measures in the Amazon is difficult with few federal regulations and laws to protect it. President Rousseff announced plans to stop illegal logging recently and said that she hopes to reduce deforestation by 70% over the next 10 years. COHA also noted that large landowners and agribusiness interests are behind many deforestation tactics. The evictions of smaller landowners are also likely behind the murders of environmental activists, according to COHA. Most of these events go largely unnoticed in the Brazilian Amazon, but there is hope that Rousseff’s new measures to protect the Amazon at the federal level will provide what is needed to curb the violence.
The Brazilian Amazon isn’t just important to Brazil. A benchmark study published in the journal Science and reported by AFP showed that forests soak up 1/3 of greenhouse gas CO2 released into the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels. This study identifies the need for mega-forests like the Brazilian Amazon and shows that forests are better at absorbing CO2 than originally thought. Deforestation developments are most concerning in Brazil and Indonesia, but forest re-growth could offset the greenhouse gases by absorbing 1.6 billion tons of CO2 annually.
The Brazilian Amazon is for Brazil what the environment is for many global corporations; an area often overlooked but ultimately beneficial. International Business Times reports that ‘as globalization continues, key policy makers must find ways for development, infrastructure, homes, businesses, etc. that see a net increase in trees…’. The Brazilian Amazon faces many key issues, but with Brazil’s increased economic success, protecting the Amazon Rainforest is vital to its long-term growth.