Two Views of the Forests.

illegal deforestationIn a speech given today in front of ministers of at the European Parliament in Brussels, Prince Charles stressed the need to address deforestation as major part of the effort to tackle global climate change.

“It is a task that calls for the biggest public, private and NGO partnership ever seen,” said Charles, who has been accompanied on his trip by representatives of a number of environment-oriented charities he heads.

Priority number one, he said, would be to save the world’s tropical rain forests.

“I believe this to be a matter of the gravest urgency,” he said. “We are destroying our planet’s air conditioning system.”

It’s true that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of wood and, conversely, the role that rainforests play as carbon sinks mean that deforestation is a huge element in both the problem and solution to global warming. A study issued last year confirmed that tropical deforestation made up about 20% of all human caused carbon emissions–about 1.5 billion tons a year.

Governmental and private efforts are being waged to reduce deforestation, particularly in the Amazon and southeast Asia, where it’s estimated that between 80-90% of logging is illegal. In Brazil, police are cracking down on some illegal logging operations:

About 140 officers raided eight sawmills in the town of Tailandia, some 175 miles (280 km) southeast of Para state capital Belem on Wednesday. They confiscated 10,000 cubic meters of tropical timber chopped down illegally, a spokeswoman for the state environment office said.

“It’s one of the biggest operations ever against sawmills,” spokeswoman Ivanette Motta said.

Tailandia, with 140 sawmills, is at the heart of an intense dispute in the Amazon for land and natural resources which is often settled by hired gunmen.

It is one of Brazil’s most violent municipalities, according to official statistics on per capita homicides.

Police also shut down 43 furnaces to make charcoal from wood and detained several people for questioning.

Now, it’s great to see that the government may be serious about addressing deforestation but let’s be real here. What’s 10,000 cubic meters in the scheme of things? Or 43 furnaces for that matter? And isn’t this just punishing the most desperate and impoverished of their citizens, who are resorting to burning wood for heating or illegal logging for food and money? Wouldn’t it be better to address the large, systematic sources and forces behind widespread logging? We’re talking about the people and companies raking in enormous amounts of money on the backs of these poor, indigenous communities.

Instead, governments invest in infrastructure that create conditions ripe for widespread deforestation.

According to the journal Science, researchers in the United States used computer models to forecast the impact of a development scheme called “Advance Brazil”.

Under the scheme, the Brazilian Government expects to spend $40bn over the next seven years on highways, railways, hydroelectric projects and housing in the Amazon basin…

“Unfortunately, there is little government control in the Amazonian frontier,” said William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Illegal logging and land-clearing are rampant. New roads that cut into the frontier almost always initiate a process of spontaneous colonization, logging, hunting and land speculation that is almost impossible to stop.

“The only way to control these processes is to control where the roads are located.”

So while high profile dignitaries talk about the urgency of protecting rainforests and governments punish those who serve as the cogs in the wheel of the logging machine, what’s being done to address our demand for timber or take on the powerful interests that get rich on the backs of some of the world’s poorest people and at the cost of our collective future?

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