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A Light in the Forest

Brazil's Fight to Save the Amazon and Climate-Change Diplomacy

An aerial view of a natural lake fed by a spring in the Amazon River basin near Manaus, September 30, 2010. Ivan Canabrava / Reuters

Across the world, complex social and market forces are driving the conversion of vast swaths of rain forests into pastureland, plantations, and cropland. Rain forests are disappearing in Indonesia and Madagascar and are increasingly threatened in Africa's Congo basin. But the most extreme deforestation has taken place in Brazil. Since 1988, Brazilians have cleared more than 153,000 square miles of Amazonian rain forest, an area larger than Germany. With the resulting increase in arable land, Brazil has helped feed the growing global demand for commodities, such as soybeans and beef.

But the environmental price has been steep. In addition to providing habitats for untold numbers of plant and animal species and discharging around 20 percent of the world's fresh water, the Amazon basin plays a crucial role in regulating the earth's climate, storing huge quantities of carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming. Slashing and burning the Amazon rain forest releases

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