Rainforest Destruction – Greater and More Concentrated

[Another post by Ken Levenson.]

Deforestation is not only unabated, it’s accelerating around the globe. The problem is growing bigger, and yet it is also becoming more concentrated.

Just how concentrated? Previously Brazil was thought to account for about a quarter of worldwide deforestation. Now it is understood to be a whopping 48%.

This news comes from a new study in the 7/8/08 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Matthew Hansen – as reported by Mongabay:

…Brazil accounts for nearly half of global deforestation, nearly four times that of the next highest country, Indonesia, which makes up about an eighth of worldwide forest clearing.

A corollary of sorts is that African deforestation may not be as critical as once thought:

“Africa, although a center of widespread, low-intensity selective logging, contributes only 5.4 percent to the estimated loss of humid tropical forest cover. This result reflects the absence of current agro-industrial scale clearing in humid tropical Africa.”

Interestingly this greater concentration may make the problem more manageable. Matthew Hansen says:

…the geographic concentration of deforestation, coupled with the shift from subsistence-driven to enterprise-deforestation forest clearing, may hold unexpected benefits for conservation: it may be easier for environmental groups to target their campaigns on major forest-destroying corporations and industries.

A sliver of good news to be leveraged for sure.

Previously the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provide the authoritative analysis on deforestation. But its data was largely based on individual countries self-reporting. And the new estimates?

…produced by analysis of a combination of satellite imagery from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Landsat programs. The researchers say the integrated methodology offers a more accurate way to track change in forest cover.

A bit of detail on the newly revealed concentrations:

…55 percent of total tropical humid forest clearing occurs within only 6 percent of the biome area, indicating the existence of deforestation “hotspots,” especially for Brazil and Indonesia where rates of forest loss — 3.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively — far exceed regional deforestation rates (1.2 percent for the rest of Latin America, 2.7 percent for the rest of Asia).

Other hotspots revealed:

“Latin American hotspots include northern Guatemala, eastern Bolivia, and eastern Paraguay. As a percentage of year-2000 forest cover, Paraguay features the highest areal proportion of change hotspots, indicating an advanced, nearly complete forest clearing dynamic…”


“…Riau province in Sumatra has the highest indicated change within Indonesia. Hot spots of clearing are present in every state of Malaysia, and clearing in Cambodia along its border with Thailand is among the highest of indicated change hot spots…”

What does the future hold?

“The pattern of deforestation in the humid tropics for the current decade indicates concentrated areas with high rates of deforestation in Latin America and southeast Asia,” study co-author Ruth DeFries, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geography and Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, told “With skyrocketing demand for biofuels and agricultural commodities, we can expect that deforestation in the future will be increasingly driven by large-scale industrial agriculture rather than small-scale landholders.”

Deforestation like coal, is top-shelf climate villain. And as new coal power plant construction must be stopped so must we also stop rainforest based industrial agriculture.

Let’s capitalize on the sliver of good news. To find out more about what you can do to help, large and small, visit:

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12 Responses to Rainforest Destruction – Greater and More Concentrated

  1. John Hollenberg says:

    Ken, thanks for the informative article.

  2. Mauri Pelto says:

    Does this mean we are deforesting the easy to access and easy to turn into agriculture forests in Brazil and after that is accomplished the more remote and wet areas will not be targetted as they are not today? That is the only glass half full possibility I see.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    “Avissar and Werth (2005) found that deforestation of tropical regions, through teleconnections similar to those produced during El Niño events, has a significant impact on the rainfall of other regions. In particular, they found that the U.S. Midwest is the continental region the most negatively affected by the deforestation of Amazonia and Central Africa during spring and summer, when rainfall decrease could severely damage agricultural productivity in that region.”


  4. Paul K says:

    This post is very much in line with Pielke Sr. who is not held in very high regard here at climateprogress.

  5. Joe says:

    Paul — Your one-liner blurts that have no basis in fact are getting tedious. Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming. Saying so does not make Ken into Roger Pielke Jr’s father!

  6. Paul K says:

    It’s ironic that you, so adept at sharp wit and sarcasm, are put off by a minor bit of teasing. I’d like to see more posts about land use, a topic largely ignored at climate progress.

  7. john says:

    That Pielke bit was humor? You’ll have to forgive us — it was nearly identical to posts you’ve made about Pielke that were intended to be serious. I guess when your sarcasm is nearly the same as your attempts at factual posts it says something — either about your facts or your sense of humor.

    At any rate, it was too subtle for me by a half — I thought you were serious.

  8. Paul K says:

    I’m pretty sure all I’ve said about Pielke Jr. is that Joe’s differences with him are outweighed by their areas of agreement and that it is more fruitful to find common ground than to argue in large part over semantics. As far as I can tell, Pielke Sr. believes land use is a greater climate forcer than CO2. The IPCC cites both in the same sentence.

  9. llewelly says:

    Pielke Sr is wrong to see land use as a greater climate forcer than CO2. However – land use is indeed a substantial climate forcer (as Joe Rohm has covered in his book, and here as well), but it does so in part through large emissions of CO2 and methane.

  10. kenlevenson says:

    Paul K,
    I’ve grown to read you as the “crazy uncle” – so I did laugh. Sorry, it cuts both ways. :)
    But at the same time I feel Joe’s frustration at your relentlessness! ;)

    An aside: I find blog comments an even worse purveyor of humor than dreaded email humor. Nothing drains the humor from a pithy or subtle remark like email or blog comments. Like an M. C. Escher illustration, you can read the line one time and it’s funny and the next moment it’s insulting….more often than not the medium is unflattering to the humorist….
    If there is the slightest subtlety, or double meaning, to the joke – I always suggest the dreaded emoticon. (If overused in this post.) I hereby conclude this infomercial for emoticons….yes, one last time…. :)

  11. Ed Ring says:

    “Pielke Sr is wrong to see land use as a greater climate forcer than CO2.”

    The person who just wrote this seems to think – like most people – that this is settled and we need to move on. Having carefully studied the work of Pielke Sr., Spencer, Cristy, Lindzen and others, I don’t think the issue is nearly settled. Land use changes are definitely having regional climate impact – in some cases this impact is severe. In my opinion the case for tropical deforestation having a deleterious effect on regional if not global climate is far more settled than whether or not anthropogenic CO2 is something we need to concern ourselves with.

  12. Cynthia McPherson says:

    After spending hours on the Internet doing research on climate change, I’ve concluded we won’t be able to stop the catastrophes predicted to occur. It’s just happening too fast, there are too many feedback cycles, and people are too disinterested to learn about it and take action. I’ve been hitting my relatives over the head about it; I’m passionate about it but they are just not interested enough to research it or try to do anything constructive about it. On AOL posts, most people are unbelievably ignorant about it. If people– the whole planet– became involved, we could do something to stop it. But society is not getting involved as they should. Leaders– even Obama, our Last Hope, is crawling at snail’s pace. By the time they realize it’s for real, it will be too late. I actually cried today when I realized.