Thursday, June 11, 2009

Amazon deforestation doesn't make communities richer, better educated, or healthier

Rhett Butler in Mongabay: A new study finds Amazon deforestation fails to sustain long-term economic growth for rural populations. The findings come as development interests in Brazil push for government support to bolster infrastructure projects and agricultural expansion in the world's largest rainforest.

Deforestation generates short-term benefits but fails to increase affluence and quality of life in the long-run, reports a new study based an analysis of forest clearing in 286 municipalities across the Brazilian Amazon. The research, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, casts doubt on the argument that deforestation is a critical step towards development and suggests that mechanisms to compensate communities for keeping forests standing may be a better approach to improving human welfare, while simultaneously sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services, in rainforest areas.

To reach this conclusion, Ana Rodrigues, a researcher formerly with University of Cambridge and currently at the Centre of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in France, and colleagues used the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index, a metric that combines life expectancy, literacy, and standard of living, to assess the welfare of 286 municipalities with varying degrees of deforestation. They found that relative welfare increases as deforestation begins, but then declines as the frontier progresses on to other areas, leaving pre- and post-deforestation levels of human development statistically equal. In other words, the boom-and-bust cycle generates few lasting benefits for local permanent populations. Most gains accrue to a population of migrants — loggers, ranchers, speculators, land squatters, miners, and farmers — that move with the frontier as resources are exhausted and land is degraded….

This NASA/MODIS image from 2007 shows one consequence of forest clearing in the Amazon: thick smoke that hangs over the forest.

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