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The Amazon Forest and Climate Challenges

The Amazon: Reflection of a Larger Reality  

The Amazon basin forms the world’s greatest hydrographic system. At 3.7 million square miles, it spans nine South American countries, with 60 percent of it in Brazil. The Amazon holds 2,500 species of trees (one third of the world’s tropical wood), 40,000 species of plants, 400 species of mammalians and 1,300 species of birds. Its main river, the Amazon, originates in the Peruvian Andes, and spans a total length of 4,000 miles to the Atlantic. The Amazon's waters are home to 3,000 species of fish. Along its banks, 24 million inhabitants live, including 342.000 natives.      

Green Forest, Gloomy Deforestation 

The occupation of the Brazilian Amazon was fostered in the 1960s by the Federal Government. From the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese in 1500 until the first decades of the 20th Century, the deforestation in the Amazon region had not surpassed one percent of the forest. To promote the occupation of the Amazon as a new frontier, the gates were wide open to Brazilian migrants. Big business soon stepped in to increase the production of soybean, taking advantage of global demand. In 50 years, the newcomers had destroyed eighteen percent of the Amazon forest. Some estimates find that nearly 20 percent of the irreplaceable Brazilian Amazon ecosystem has now been deforested.             

In 2016, the Amazon deforestation process went up (4,992 square miles) for the third consecutive year: 29 percent higher than what had occurred in 2015, which in turn had been 24 percent higher than the 2014 mark. After a period of resistance against devastation levels in the Amazon, it became clear that the recent deforestation pace was only reflecting the lack of priority suffered by the Brazilian environmental agenda. 

What’s the connection between deforestation and climate change? Climate change refers to the shifts in climate attributed to the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmo-sphere resulting from rising use of fossil fuels. The connection to deforestation is that the level of carbon in the atmosphere greatly depends upon the trees and forests, key fixers of the carbon available in the atmosphere. The tropical woods alone contain 350 million tons of carbon, nearly half of the total carbon involved by the atmosphere. The Industrial Revolution of late 18th century set off an accelerating pace of industrial pollution with the emergence of power-driven machinery, increasing mechanical transportation, agricultural mechanization, mounting deforestation. “(W)e have in fact created a new world atmosphere,” and it “will take millennia for Earth’s natural carbon-related processes to fully reabsorb those gases from the atmosphere.” (Berger, p. 3) 

This problem has no quick fix. A realistic approach to this problem is urgently needed. For Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997), the French oceanographer who led an ecological mission to the Amazon in 1982, “the vocation of the Amazon is to be a forestland; hence its cry for a rational utilization free from predatory threats.” (Britto e Reis, p. 4-5).             

Our concern is about the future of the Amazon and of the Earth, a perspective to be orchestrated around durable solutions. We must discard solutions that are solely short-term and establish the health of the region and the planet as a long-term goal. 

 Viable Solutions for a Sustainable Amazon 

 1. Official Support Improvement: The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), founded in 1989, works as the Ministry of the Environment’s operational arm to articulate, coordinate, and implement environmental policies. A banner of innovation, it soon started showing concessions to dubious patterns: investment cuts, disrespect for the labor force, and appointment of leaders lacking both hands-on experience and commitment to the climate cause. (IHU, 2016,p. 1-2). IBAMA’s recovery needs two major changes:(a) incremental monitoring of its activities (budget cuts caused extinction of inspector slots, thus opening the doors to fast-rising deforestation), and (b) labor force reposition through public context. Today, 36 percent of the inspectors have reached retirement age.                

 2. Expansion of Rural Environment Dossier: CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural), part of the New Forest-protection Code, is an electronic tool applied to the identification of rural properties, their monitoring process, economic planning and deforestation as-sessment. An agile mechanism, CAR has become a timely agent of environmental care.      

 3. Extractivist Reserves Implementation: This forest-protection category was introduced as a combination of rural development and forest ecological well-being.  “The expansion of potential forest areas through the creation of parks and reserves could reach up to 70 percent of the Amazon region,” stressed José Goldemberg, a physicist, former rector of the University of São Paulo, an ex-Minister of Education. (Britto e Reis, p. 7).

 4.  Consistent Legislation on Wood Extraction and Trade: Illegal wood extraction and trade are the most traditional abuses against the Amazon forest. Old trees are illegally sawed and transported by trucks along improvised roads to intermediary warehouses. Detecting the infraction should not be a problem, but old-fashioned inspection allows for multiple violations.     

 5. Promotion of Environmental Education: Respect for and commitment toward the Earth must be embraced by all educational levels. A well-designed strategy on environmental sciences and stewardship would prepare the next generation to understand the value of their voices and efforts to protect the Earth, our common home.


This piece was written by Antonio Pereira, a volunteer at Catholic Climate Covenant through the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.

Prayer for Healing

Blessed are You, Holy Creator, source of all that is good, beautiful and whole.
Where wholeness is splintered or shattered, goodness damaged or marred, and beauty bruised or broken, we ask for healing and deep peace.
Be healing balm for this world: for all people, creatures, places, events, and for the environment.
We welcome the touch of your healing love and gentle presence.
Inspired by Dorothy Stang, your servant and martyr, we pray in communion with all the saints in glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer by Sr. Teresita Weind, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur    
Dorothy Stang was a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who was martyred in 2005 while fighting for human rights and the preservation of the environment in the Brazilian Amazon. To learn more about her life and legacy, visit the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur of Ohio's website. You can also read about REPAM, the pan-Amazonian Catholic church network created to respond to the challenges facing the people of the Amazon and their natural environment (this resource courtesy of the Colomban Center for Advocacy and Outreach). 


 Berger, John I. 2014. Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis. Berkeley, California: Northbrae Books.

 Britto, Fernanda, e Reis, Mariana, 2016. Amazônia e o Meio Ambiente,  Accessed on October, 25, 2016.  

IHU – Instituto Humanitas Unisinos. Amazônia, o Ibama e o desmatamento.  Accessed on October 13, 2016

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