Table of Contents: Further Readings
Reprinted from "Q: Is the Destruction of the Amazon's Rain Forest an Eco-myth?" Insight on the News, Sept. 18, 2000, with permission from Insight, © 2000 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Marc Morano is a correspondent for American Investigator, a television newsmagazine, and co-producer with Kent Washburn of Amazon Rainforest: Clear-Cutting the Myths.
There has been talk for years about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. However, the Amazon is one of the most intact and least-endangered forests on the planet. The claim that the rain forests are being destroyed "at a rate of 20 football fields a minute" is false. In addition, claims that the Amazon serves as the "lungs of the earth" and that over "450 species" are destroyed every day in the Amazon are exaggerated. The Amazon is not in as much danger as some environmentalists think. More than 87 percent of the forest is still intact. Instead, what is in danger of extinction are the native people of the Amazon rain forest who are prevented by stringent environmental regulations from using the forest to support themselves. The TV newsmagazine American Investigator looked into the claims about the Amazon made by environmental groups and celebrity activists and found that most of the hype is dead wrong. Yet Patrick Moore, a founding and former member of Greenpeace, says that "only 10 percent of the Amazon has been converted to date from what was original forest to agriculture and settlement."
According to Landsat satellite imaging and analysis carried out at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia, the rain forest is much greener than expected. As detailed in the recent TV special, Amazon Rainforest: Clear-Cutting the Myths, Landsat data indicate that 87.5 percent of the forest is still intact. Of the 12.5 percent that is deforested, one-third to one-half is in the process of regeneration, meaning that up to 94 percent of the Amazon rain forest is left to nature.
Philip Stott of the University of London and author of the new book, Tropical Rainforests: Political and Hegemonic Myth-Making, maintains that the environmental campaigns have lost perspective.
"One of the simple, but very important, facts is that the rain forests have only been around for between 12,000 and 16,000 years," he says. "That sounds like a very long time, but in terms of the history of the Earth, it's hardly a pinprick. The simple point is that there are now still, despite what humans have done, more rain forests today than there were 12,000 years ago."
Moore adds that "the rain forests of the Amazon, the Congo, Malaysia, Indonesia and a few other parts of the world are the least-endangered forests" because "they are the least suitable for human habitation."
Despite the Amazon being at least 87.5 percent intact, many claims abound as to how fast the forest is being cleared.
Fact or fiction: destruction claims
In the widely viewed 1985 TV documentary Amazonia, produced by the World Wildlife Fund, the narrator intones that "in the brief amount of time it takes to watch this film, roughly 400,000 acres of forest will have been cleared." Ruy de Goes of Greenpeace-Brazil says that in the last four years "an area the size of France was destroyed."
Actor William Shatner in a National Geographic documentary claims that, worldwide, "rain forest is being cleared at a rate of 20 football fields a minute." Rainforest Action Network says the Amazon is being deforested at a rate of eight football fields a minute. Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief says that worldwide deforestation can be measured in seconds. "It may be closer to two to three football fields a second," says Keating.
When de Goes of Greenpeace-Brazil is confronted with the disparity in numbers regarding these football fields, he replies, "The numbers are not important; what is important is that...