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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