Just six months after Brazil reported to much fanfare that deforestation in the Amazon was at a 22-year low, its latest survey results show an alarming year-over-year increase, according to reports by the BBC, NYTimes.com and the environmental organization WWF. Compared to a spring 2010, there's been 5.75-times more land cleared, 229 square miles in all, according to the BBC; the New York Times put the nine-month deforestation total at 710 square miles, a 26% increase.
The most rapid deforestation is occurring in the Mato Grosso state, a center for Brazil's growing soybean industry that has been called "a tropical Texas." While the U.S. remains the world's largest exporter of soybeans, Brazil is expected to overtake it by 2020, according to Department of Agriculture projections. The USDA expects a record soy crop in Brazil this year, at 70 million tons, much of which is destined for China.
Beef cattle ranchers are also considered key drivers of deforestation. Most of Brazil's beef exports go to Europe and Japan, not the U.S.
In other words, there's little U.S. consumers can do to effect change through altering their purchases.
Besides global trade drivers, environmentalists say discussion about revising a law that requires 80% Amazon forest conservation for every 20% of clearing is spurring farmers to clear land in expectation that their actions would not be prosecuted.
The Amazonian rain forest is among the most biodiverse regions on Earth, with a stunning array of life that is rapidly being squeezed as agricultural development encroaches. The loss of forest also has implications for the global climate, as deforestation is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Below: A NASA photo from August 2007 shows fires and deforestation in the Mato Grosso state of Brazil.
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