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Why Is the Amazon Rain Forest Disappearing? (time.com)
110 points by rblion 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

If the world cares about it then the world should pay for it. Not sanctions, nor sanctimony. Buy the land.

It would be expensive, but that just reflects the value to the people you're buying it from. And it's an actual, concrete action that can be taken, instead of the vague global warming solutions that just tweak domestic parameters and send tax money to the black hole of the state budget.

This argument is entirely pointless. You’re proposing to purchase land - crucial natural resource - from a sovereign nation(s). I can’t begin to imagine what a fair price would be, if there is such a thing. 300 trillion dollars? Who would pay? The rich nation taxpayers? Would the population of these benefactors countries be happy with increased taxation for no direct impact in their lives? Private investors? What would they recoup their investment from,, “responsible” exploration of the land they are ostensibly saving? Not to mention the political and cultural implications of attempting to buy a resource from a nation, after the purchasers have used up their own for economical and geopolitical gain. I ask for forgiveness if the tone of this message is overly cynical, but we are past the point of thought exercises over the fate of this planet.

If a solution to preserve the Amazon is to be found, that will involve helping Brazil rise above the cesspool of corruption that its been steeped in for the past decades. Assistance with education and economic incentives for alternatives to heavy reliance on beef and grain exports. Heavy tariffs or outright ban of these products on the international markets. Punish the large agricultural and cattle business that are decimating the forest for gain, give the people alternatives for subsistence. Until that happens, little will change.

It’s not a pointless argument if voters agree. Nations don’t necessarily have to buy the land, but regular payments to Brazil to give them a reason to maintain the rain forest as opposed to burning it is a reasonable proposal. It’s better than just complaining about it.

See the Amazon Fund project, mainly funded by Norway, where donations are invested to fight against deforestation.


Unless it gets 100x bigger, this is a drop in the ocean, though. A lot more money could be made by exploiting that land.

No, it's pointless. Sinking more money into the black hole that is Brazil's corrupt government? What's next? How about regular payments to US and Russia so they have a reason to maintain their nuclear weapons instead of just using them?

I think we did do that for a time when Russia was unstable, post USSR, to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

Also we can keep Brazil honest via satellite imaging. More burning? No more money

>> Sinking more money into the black hole that is Brazil's corrupt government?

Given the history of Brazil, you meant governments I guess.

Any such proposal is considered by many Brazilians to be patronizing a sovereign nation.

Sure, but the international community just complaining hasn’t yielded the best results. The reason the rain forest is burning is for economic reasons. Similarly, I don’t see why the international committee can’t provide economic reasons to preserve it if it’s that important

Yes, I do understand what you're saying and I wish/hope it happens. I wonder if the answer to your implicit question is that the degree of economic incentive that would be necessary to persuade Brazil to agree to something that it considers demeaning would be so great that it is either (a) unrealistic to imagine funding it as others have suggested elsewhere in this comment thread, or (b) would verge on economic aggression (i.e. persuading someone to do something they would rather not via financial means is of course not always considered ethical, even by the most red blooded free-marketeers.)

A) It’s not unrealistic. Just recently France have offered 20 million for assistance for the rainforest. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the US made payments to Russia when it was unstable to help it secure its nuclear inventory

B) I’m not sure that offering aid is “aggressive” vs economic sanctions or IMF loans

My comments are more critical of developed nations rather than Brazil.

OK, but 20 million??? Brazil is a huge industrialized nation! The Amazon is basically the entire northern one third of the country! That figure has to be several orders of magnitude off. OK, here's an absurdly crude and possibly buggy attempt which suggests that 20 million is out by a factor of tens of thousands:

  # https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_rainforest
  amazon_area = 5.5e6  # km^2
  fraction_brazilian = 0.6  # 60%
  # http://www.buybrazilland.com/rainforest-property-for-sale/
  price_per_acre = 1000

  acres_per_sq_km = 247.105
  brazil_amazon_price = amazon_area * fraction_brazilian * 
  acres_per_sq_km * price_per_acre

  => $815,446,500,000.0

  brazil_amazon_price / 20e6
  => 40772.325

> OK, but 20 million??? Brazil is a huge industrialized nation!

20 million is one offer, yes only a modest one, by only a single nation in the EU to help with the immediate crisis of controlling the raging fires. I only pointed it out because you and others wrote that it was unrealistic for any nation to even think about making payments. Obviously, all the developed nations complaining about what's happening in Brazil should pay up and it would amount to a lot more than just 20 million. It should be a number that is much higher than ranchers' and industrial farmers' missed economic opportunity.

Again, my comments are mainly critical of nations who are condemning Brazil about what's happening to the Rain Forest, while ignoring the fact that many everyday people in a developing nation need money to meet basic needs.

Also I am not saying that nations should buy the Amazon, but just make aid payments that are greater than the missed economic opportunity of destroying it for farmland. i.e. it's going to be less than the amount you calculated

That's less than a trillion, which is likely much cheaper than the future cost to mitigate the damage caused by the loss of this forest. It feels like a very reasonable solution.

Less than the market cap of Amazon, the company.

Yes, don't get me wrong, there are few things I would wish for more than this happening.

are you implying that foreigners are not allowed to buy land in brazil?

Land has been bought before on this scale and for quite cheap, see: Alaska, Louisiana.

Buying land owned by another country means diddly. All it takes is one politician or motivated company to declare the contract void, and that happening is merely a matter of time.

You’d need to buy it and split it off as a country and be prepared to defend it as such and pray that the locals are willing to be absorbed by your new government. The cost of that is several magnitudes larger than merely buying land.

Eh, even nations can't just declare contracts void without serious repercussions. Nations have credit ratings too and frequently utilize international financing

But that goes full circle back to the repercussions criticized by OP.

Buying the land doesn't do anything unless its protected by armed forces.

I'm pretty sure Brazil would be delighted to receive a regular check from the rest of the world in exchange for defending part of the rainforest. As long as they get their cut, they're going to be happy. Just make the payments conditional on the continued protection of the forest; otherwise they can be expected to renege eventually.

This is exactly what it means to "buy property," by the way: nobody else can use it and the government enforces that if necessary using men with guns. So what I'm suggesting is only a slight refinement of the normal and expected arrangement when buying property.

Buying property is a one-time deal, not a "regular check". Also this is between nations so a purchase of land means transferring sovereignty as well.

It seems what you're talking about is leasing the land, which is entirely different. Also unlikely considering how much industry it would displace in their economy (which is the reason this is a problem in the first place).

Buying property is a one-time check to the current owner. You also generally make regular payments to the government in the form of property taxes.

This doesn’t apply to governments buying from each other.

I'm talking about doing exactly what I said. Not the things you are talking about.

So no land rights, just paying them to maintain a rainforest? That has nothing to do with (buying) property at all.

That kind of deal would have ridiculous rates for the opportunity cost, won't stop illegal deforestation or crimes through plausible deniability, and we'll still end up with an expensive military and political presence to oversee everything. Also many other countries will start to ransom environmental support for a paycheck.

I see nothing but negatives with this strategy. We can't just pay countries to change their behavior that easily.

there is no way that this payment arrangement is stable over the long term (more than 10 years).

The only thing that will happen is the locals will become resentful of the foreigners who are preventing them from using their own land, someone will rise to power riding on that resentment, they'll use the money to raise an army, and then they'll kick out the foreigners and renege on the deal.

there is no such things as "buying property" between nations with out transferring sovereignty. Look at the louisiana purchase, purchase of alaska, etc for examples of doing it correctly in a long term sustainable way.

look at hong kong for examples of doing it wrong: the chinese "bought" hong kong from the british 100+ years ago but guess what? the hong kong people don't care.

All things considered, the arrangement of Guantanamo Bay, where Cuba retained sovereignty and gave the US an indefinite lease, which survived Cold War hostilities, even the missile crisis, without disruption by anti-US sentiment, has been relatively stable.

> there is no way that this payment arrangement is stable over the long term

I'm not sure about that.

> there is no such things as "buying property" between nations with out transferring sovereignty

Not with that attitude.

Macron wants to make Brazil's access to EU markets conditional on protecting the rain forests. Brazil is not happy about that.

I think the solution of just paying Brazil to protect the forests is much cleaner and much more likely to work over the long term.

Tariffs have a lot of side effects. They are very messy, politically. They create winners and losers in both countries.

Additional resources will allow to purchase equipment, pave roads (like the BR-319 that article is describing). And in a decade the deforestation will only increase. An instability or crisis will likely have the opposite effect. In particular, road surface degradation or disruptions in the exports.

What happens when you buy the land and then people burn it down anyway and steal it back?

I presume buying the rights to the land also gives you the rights to stop these people with force.

The current deforestation is already driven by illegal trespassers. Changing the ownership on paper won't change anything

>It would be expensive

It's just Brazilian farmland, I don't see why it will be expensive. It looks like the conservative cost of a productive acre of farmland in Brazil can cost up to 1500 USD an acre, so taking the 2.124 million miles^2 area of the Amazon basin we get a very conservative 2.03T USD to purchase every acre of the Amazon basin at generous upper-end of Brazilian agricultural prices regardless of productivity.

The real problem is... how could you trust Bolsonaro's government or the criminals they've enabled and emboldened to respect your property rights?

> how could you trust Bolsonaro's government or the criminals they've enabled and emboldened to respect your property rights?

In the same way the US Midwest is still not sovereign French territory after the US bought it, whoever bought the Amazon would take the role in defending it as their own turf. Which would mean garrisoning armed forces to protect the borders.

It would definitionally have to be a secession of the territory from Brazil, and it would probably just be cheaper to assassinate the government of Brazil and replace it with a puppet dictatorship beholden to foreign interests, which is something the US is extremely good at.

> US is good at ...

No it's not. It fucked up all of those. The puppet gov lasted at best a few terms, the general sentiment in the affected countries worsened, etc. And then their puppet collapsed and the people got a nice military coup then a brutal junta for years (decade(s)).

Sanctions are a lot more cost effective.

Although I’d rather prefer that well-run countries (like Canada for instance) take poorly-run countries (like India or Brazil) into a form of “stewardship” of sorts. This would essentially involve first invading and annexing those countries and turning them into “protectorates” of sorts — but it would differ from old colonialism in the sense that the “steward” nation would not be exploiting the country it’s taken into its stewardship, but only ensuring that they’re run smoothly, fairly, and justly.

>but it would differ from old colonialism in the sense that the “steward” nation would not be exploiting the country it’s taken into its stewardship

If only it were that simple and some human beings weren't inherently bad people.

Unless we as a society return to a simpler lifestyle of living, I see this as an unsolvable problem. For example, everyone in the US is trumpeting climate change and what not. And yet just walk into any starbucks and any supermarket and restaurant - none of that stuff is really recyclable. People generate tons of trash by using home delivery packages via amazon and non-recyclable food containers. Cars everywhere and completely unmaintained public transport. People really aren't willing to make a change but will go on about paris agreement and hate on trump. Their actions and life style say otherwise. What is then wrong with people in other countries wanting a similar life style?

What no one wants to admit is that our modern way of life is totally unsustainable on any level. Plastic straw bans and the like help us feel like where at least trying, but it's all just band-aids on a gaping wound. Then corporations try and shift the blame to the consumer at the same time making us us dependent on their products as soon as we're born.

If you divide world GDP by number of households in world, the household income turns out to be $59,000. In theory, we have achieved enough progress that everyone on the planet can live fairly rich lives. This is obviously not the case due to massive inequality. But the interesting side effect of this is the age of abundance for few of us. I just drank a bottle of blueberry yogurt and threw away plastic bottle. I get free soda from office and toss aluminium cane to the trace. It just occurs to me how insignificant the existence of that plastic bottle or aluminium cane is for me. It literally existed only for the purpose of providing little liquid and then to disappear forever in that growing pile of trash on the planet. It's amazing to think about how many things in our households we wouldn't consider valuable but would be treasured in some other part of the world. My theory is that this age of abundance is short and possibly in 100 years of time when trash engulfs this planet, mines dries up, raw materials becomes rare material - the future generation would look to us as some sort of envy and anger.

>Unless we as a society return to a simpler lifestyle of living, I see this as an unsolvable problem.

There's no reason to presume that it isn't possible to retain our current standard of living while also solving the problem through technological innovation - we've arguably had the solution for decades in the form of nuclear, and we're inching closer every day with developments in non-nuclear renewables and outside of the energy space with innovation in farming (outdoor and indoor/vertical, GMO) and material design.

Despite the doom and gloom, talk along the lines of 12 years before irreversible runaway into catastrophe is really a worst case estimate. Chances are we will have plenty of time to develop technology to slow climate change and adapt to its effects in the coming decades, particularly given that it is a rising concern among citizens the world over.

Honestly, given how much of our infrastructure is dependent on fossil fuels and environmentally unfriendly materials, it simply isn't practical to make the kind of radical transition you're advocating for - our entire food chain, for example relies on modern plastics and ICEs for delivery/storage. The waste you describe from e.g. Starbucks and packaging is probably a small percentage of the waste that our modern civilization is structured upon, even if you convinced everyone to drastically lower their standard of living overnight. Balancing risk with cost, this is a transition that cannot happen overnight anyway.

Agree with you in general.

> it simply isn't practical to make the kind of radical transition you're advocating for

The above line is exactly my point. We think changing ourselves is impractical. But we want the rest of the world to abide by our views of "green" and "sustainable living".

If you look at the State of Amazonas, Brazil on Google maps satellite view, it appears to be largely untouched. Rondonia and Matto Grosso are the states most affected by deforestation. Other large parts of the Amazon rain forest in other states of Brazil and in Peru, Colombia and Venezuela are also intact. Don't take Time's word for it - go look yourself.

The claim in the article is that the deforestation is approaching 20% of the original forest and that, once that number reaches 20-25%, the water cycle will be disrupted in a way that will transform the majority of the remaining forest into savanna.

This is not a claim that I can confirm or refute using google maps.

Deforestation of 20-25% or more is not uncommon at smaller scales and I know of no such example where such an area transformed to savanna.

Do you know of any examples where the forest that was de-forested 25% was the Amazon or another tropical rainforest? Obviously if a pine barren is deforested 25% it won't turn in to savannah.

Smaller scale transformation won’t interact with global complex systems like the water cycle in the same way. You can’t make that comparison.

I find it hard to take news outlets seriously on this subject when they keep the kid gloves on concerning the current president of Brazil. The reticence to call his "victory" what it really was: a coup. The intercept [0] laid out the fact that his opponent, who was slated to win in a landslide, was jailed and convicted by a judge who was working in concert with the prosecutor to ensure a conviction. If the aim was to do real journalism and speak truth to power, then outlets would call if like it is and convey zero legitimacy to the current administration.

[0]: https://theintercept.com/series/secret-brazil-archive/

I, as a brazilian, find it hard to take your comment seriously.

First of all, judge Moro is a national hero, and recent polls still show him as the most admired public figure in the country. Leading operation Car Wash, he was responsible to (finally!) jail many of the most powerful politics and businessman in Brasil, due to disgusting corruption and shameless kickback schemes. All his convictions were backed by mountains and mountains of evidence, and upheld in at least 3 different upper courts, including our Supreme Court. There were more than 100 convictions from politics from the entire political spectrum by Judge Moro, from right to left.

Operation Car Wash has already recovered more than 8 Billion in assets stolen from public companies.

"His opponent" that you mentioned is President Lula, today recognized as the leader of a criminal organization that stole literally billions from Brazil. He currently serves a sentence from receiving a penthouse as bribe (there are even pictures of him inside the apartment, and the owner of the building company that built it testified about the whole scheme).

Trust me, jailing him was not easy, giving the enormous support he had due to him (or his political party) being in power from 2003-2016 (btw, during this time they also managed to destroy our economy - we'll end this decade as the worst in economical terms of the last 120 years).

The are other 8 criminal lawsuits against former president Lula, and he has already been convicted (by a different Judge) in another one about "the ranch in Atibaia", which he also denied being his, even tough prosecution proved it was actually received by him as bribe: the place had paddle boats with the names of his grandsons, the master bedroom had all his wife's medicines on the counter top and even dinner tables had their names engraved, there were even regular e-mails from the manager of the ranch to the president updating him with the most detailed events... there's a 20 page PDF by our FBI with pictures of all the evidence.

About the alleged collusion between Judge Moro and the prosecution, you just need to read the Intercept messages by yourself to see that absolutely nothing wrong happened there. It's normal for the Judge to talk with the prosecution in a criminal case, as he needs to collect opinions before his rulings.

What happened in Brazil is that a "crazy judge" and some "crazy prosecutors" decided to change the "status quo" and finally put an end to the shameless multi-billion stealing that was going on for the last decade, lead by former president Lula and his political associates. If you think these Judges and Prosecutors would achieve those results without a lot of backing from the public opinion, you must only be naive. Some of those messages show exactly that: Judge and Prosecutor talking about how shadowy manouvers to discredit the operation needed to be brought to light so the public could protest and react and prevent them. Extra credit to them for doing that and going the extra mile, all within the law.

After President Bolsonaro was elected, he invited Judge Moro to talk, and he accepted to leave the Judiciary Branch to serve as Minister of Justice, and he'll probably be appointed to be a Supreme Court Justice when the next position opens (Bolsonaro will be able to appoint 2 seats during his term, during to retirements). Props to Bolsonaro for doing that.

After all these messages came out between Moro and Prosecution were published (all criminally obtained by a Hacker, I must point out), Judge Moro put it best: "parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus".

I agree, it wasn't a coup.

Lula, who will soon answer for even more corruption charges, was judged by 3 tiers of Brazil's law system, including their "Supreme Court".

Just ask yourselves: why would the owner of Odebrecht, a company that had a revenue of 45 billion USD in 2018, confess under oath that his company had corrupt deals with Lula's party when Lula was the party leader?


The Intercept is only releasing small disconnected parts of the recordings that can be milked for clicks. They never released in full and don't plan to. Moro already asked The Intercept to release the conversations in full, in vain it seems.

Where in the article does it link the confession to the trial in question? I read it and don't see a connection.

Judge colludes with prossecution

Judge sends political adversary to prison

Judge now minister in current administration, arguably in power due to his imprisoning the aforementioned political adversary

That Judge was operating at the lowest tier of the Judiciary when he sentenced Lula.

The sentence was appealed many times all the way up to the Supreme Court and along the way, other Judges not only agreed that Lula is a criminal but also increased his initial sentence.

Questioning the sentence and the judges and prossecution involved is totally NOT the same as defending the prossecuted. I don't get how many people jump to this conclusion.

It is virtually impossible to defend Lula. There is enough proof out there to back this.

No. What I am questioning the the timeline of events, that fit too conveniently for the current president and the judge, that is now a minister.

I hope this clarifies your confusion.

Or perhaps the president appointed the judge as Minister of Justice in recognition for putting in jail many of the most powerful politics and businessman in Brazil.

Makes perfect sense, that judge is a national hero.


I was being honest already.

Clearly our political views don't align but next time try arguing with facts instead of moving goal posts.

As for my sleep, it's better than ever now that I know the largest criminal organization ever in Brazil no longer controls the country.

So do you truly believe that Lula has no responsibility in the Odebrecht case?

I haven't said that anywhere in my post. I have already addressed this kind of misinterpretation in a fellow user's comment

The judge that presided over Lava Jato has been shown to be completely corrupt via the disclosure of his Telegram directions to the prosecutors, which completely violates judicial neutrality. The Intercept Brazil has been covering this story.


edit: corrected WhatsApp to Telegram.


It wasn't WhatsApp, it was Telegram. Check your sources and be careful when spreading misinformation.

Shoot, you're right. My bad.

When you look at these situations you have to realize it may be the case that the victims are criminals. The question is of the lesser evil, as there are no absolutes in such countries... or really any country. American elites often exploit 3rd world countries for unheard of gains, just look at Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Bush and the gains they made off war. In 3rd world countries they often exploit the country itself.

Sure seems like a coup if you look at the behavior of prosecutors colluding to jail their opposition's leaders on trumped up charges.

We need an economic framework that makes it more profitable to keep the forest intact than to burn it down and plant soybeans.

It's hypocritical to point the finger at Brazil for exploiting their natural resources when developed countries got rich by doing the same. If we want to prioritize biodiversity and oxygen generation then we should pay the Amazonian countries for it.

Really tangential...but major props to the time mag web dev team for making an unobtrusive reading experience that has graphics and animations that are helpful for driving home key points of the story.

The US did the same thing with a lot of our natural resources in the past century. it does seem somewhat hypocritical to not let other countries do what we have previously done. What we did was wrong but it also allowed the US to grow to what it is today.

Two wrongs don't make a right. No, it is not owed due to the rising nations of the world to let them continue to devastate the climate in the way first world powers have.

And continue to.

Its easier to point fingers than take responsibility of course. Hence why very little actually gets done to combat climate change. Brazil burns the Amazon, Americans throw out of a ton of plastic a year each, and humanity cooks itself complicit in its own destruction.

Wait a second, there was just a report put out by NASA that stated the world is become more green, specifically citing the Amazon Rain Forest as an area that’s more green than it was 20 years ago.

Something seems completely wrong here.


Also a report from NASA that the fires in the Amazon were only slightly higher than normal - less than the levels seen in 2010.


Right, something seems very off with this journalism here.

Well, you're linking to Forbes, for starters. Even though it's a generally a terrible source of information, the article literally tells you in the headline that "NASA Says Earth Is Greener Today Than 20 Years Ago Thanks To China, India"

It says nothing about the Amazon, which is being cut down and burned down by people. You can see the Amazon as the big tan/light green blob in northern South America in the image in the article. There is just about no net greening. Greening is delta in LAI. You can burn down a rain forest and have a bunch of grass in it's place and there will be no net greening, but on the net it will release a ton of CO2 and destroy the environment.

That article doesn't even mention the Amazon? Per the chart, Brazil's net change in leaf area since the 1990s is a fat 0%.

That said, I do wonder if replacing rainforest with soybeans counts as no change in leaf area.

The article doesn’t, however the study does. You can see it’s circled in the map along with China and India. Read the study.

Yes the Amazon rainforrest is nearly gone and it should have been protected better but also all other countries forrests should have been protected, for example where there were massive forrests across europe that were destroyed centuries ago for building things like towns, cathedrals and castles and for firewood.. these should be at least in some significant part re-grown.

"Two decades after its fall, the border between East and West Germany would become Europe's biggest nature reserve: an 858-mile "ecological treasure trove", no longer the Iron Curtain but the Green Belt, and home to more than 600 rare and endangered species of birds, mammals, plants and insects."


The area around Chernobyl is another example. If you get rid of people, the ecosystem recovers pretty rapidly.


Also there is nothing stopping developed nations from protecting what they have already and actually regenerating forests.

I guess most people in Western Democracies are more worried about what everyone else is doing while our own politician ruin everything.

Not really. At least not in the US. Deforestation is pretty heavily controlled.

>destroyed centuries ago for building things like towns, cathedrals and castles and for firewood

Agree with your point entirely but also want to mention that the motivation behind not re-growing is land-clearing for reasons not stated i.e. farmland, transport infrastructure, housing. The use of wood for building materials and even firewood is carbon neutral if appropriately managed, it's those specific motivations to keep the land cleared that have led to an overall draw-down of forest cover. You can't restore cover without addressing the motivations for clearing it, and use of wood for building/heat is a bit of a red herring in that sense.

All for meat farming

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