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Urbanization Has Left the Amazon Burning 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-so-hot dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "Farming, logging, and strip mining has long altered much of the Amazon rainforest, with slash-and-burn land-clearing techniques turning large portions of the forest into patchworks of pastures, second-growth forest, and degraded land. Now, rural people are increasingly moving to booming Amazonian cities; paradoxically, the land they're leaving behind is being ravaged by wildfires. A new paper published in PNAS shows that in the Peruvian Amazon, land use changes and depopulation have let large wildfires fly through converted land. It puts a damper on those optimistic that the urbanization of the Amazon may allow parts of the forest to recover, by centralizing populated areas and leaving old converted land to be slowly gobbled up by the encroaching forest."
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Urbanization Has Left the Amazon Burning

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We're all fucked. :(

    - /dev/phaeton

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was wondering what happened to the rainforests. As a kid I was always hearing how we're cutting down the rainforests and they'd all be gone in XX years. We're still losing them :(

    • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:47AM (#42258533) Homepage

      As a kid...they'd all be gone in XX years.

      The real problem here is that kids are still being taught Roman numerals.

    • I was wondering what happened to the rainforests. As a kid I was always hearing how we're cutting down the rainforests and they'd all be gone in XX years. We're still losing them :(

      What happens to the rain forests? In the short term sad things will happen to the rain forests. In the long term (read: a thousand years or more) nothing remarkable will happen. Even if we keep going the way we are doing today and believe the free market pundits when they tell us it's OK to gingerly go on cutting forests down, polluting, rapaciously depleting resources, driving entire species to extinction and modifying the climate, civilization will eventually collapse, human populations will be drasticall

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Pest species." You're adorable.

        • by Evtim (1022085)

          What do you call it then? Ahh yes, even shallow, commercial entertainment gets it right - "you are not mammals, you are a virus" - as opposed to free market gurus.

          To me it is highly symptomatic and very worrying that even such pop-culture items as the Matrix or Star Wars (the bad guy plays “both sides” against each other – that was a stab on GWB/Taliban if I ever saw one). That means that it is common in our culture to expect such behavior from humans. Art, even such commercial art is a re

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Global warming indicates species extinction level feedback loop is possible, and in about 400 years.

    • by Dyne09 (1305257)
      I was a little confused about the direction of this article. Is it saying that we're actually losing more rain-forest per year due to wild fires than we were to deforestation? They draw a link between urbanization and a growth in rural wild fires, but is the net loss more than it was 20 years ago? If there is an % increase in wildfires, what does that mean in context? Maybe they explained it in the video (I couldn't watch it where I was), but all this article is saying is wildfires = bad, which I think w
  • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:48AM (#42258281) Journal

    Amazonian soils are poor. The wealth is in the trees and the plants and animals that live there. Slash and burn and the soil is depleted in just a few years, and there is nothing left for trees to come back to. Add wildfires, erosion, desertification, and accelerating habitat loss and without a concerted effort BY PEOPLE to put things back complete with planting saplings and fertilizing, there isn't much hope for reforestation. The good news is that there are a growing number of displaced aboriginal peoples who would be only too happy to nurture the regrowth of the forest, they would simply need education and resources to do the reforestation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Everybody understands. The people who matter just don't care. I guess they would rather eat than save the planet for your kids.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:57AM (#42259107)

        Everybody understands. The people who matter just don't care. I guess they would rather eat than save the planet for your kids.

        Agreed. It's hypocritical for us to sit here in our 21st century post-industrialist nations and chastise those nations who want to develop themselves out of poverty, when our nations are themselves the product of the worst ecological disasters in recent geological history. For example, there is every reason to believe that the Great Eastern Forest of North America, that area expanding from the Atlantic to the Mississippi river and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, was just as ecologically diverse as the Amazon up until the 15th century. Arthur Barlowe wrote, upon his exploration of the North Carolina coast, "so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them...in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found."

        Slash and burn was regularly used to clear off the land for agriculture and build modern cities, Washington, Atlanta, Manhattan, were built this way. Washington in particular was also built by compacting swamplands, a practice that is illegal today. The entire Southern United States was clear-cut by 1850, an ecological nightmare that was rectified many years later by the planting of longleaf pines, an invasive species that was preferred for its short maturity cycle (20 years). This clear-cutting of the land lead to an economic disaster that may have exacerbated the American Civil War (that, along with slavery, the tool used to clear-cut the forests in the first place). It was only the temperate humid climate that prevented dust bowls from happening, although this did not spare the Great Plains region some 80 years later.

        We can be "high and mighty" as we sit in the comfort of our heated homes, protected by our modern technology in a society that got rich from exploiting the environment and the poor, but it would be hypocritical. Who are we to judge what other nations do in their development?

        • by okor (1848382)
          Insightful and informative. Thanks.
        • There are not good reasons to think the northern areas were as diverse as the Amazon up until the 15th century and there are VERY good reasons to expect the more northern forests to be depleted relative to the Amazon.

          The amazon has tree types which were common before the Chicxulub impactor, which resulted in a splashing of material up and over most of North America. Much of living things on North America were wiped out at this time. For much of the continent in the times after the impact, the largest la

        • by Genda (560240)

          One problem is that the forest is being ravaged by a few rich nations (usually not even to the advantage of the nation being ravaged) for instance Japan is one of the major causes of tropical deforestation on the planet. The next is that greedy industrialists rape the forest for mineral wealth, often murdering indigenous populations and leaving environmental devastation. Much of this is the work of multinational criminals for purely profit based motives. Sometimes the only nationals that get any value from

    • by daem0n1x (748565) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @06:32AM (#42258721)

      It's a paradox most people don't understand very well. My country, Portugal, is a very good example.

      Massive migrations from the countryside started in the 60s because of widespread poverty in rural areas. Our agriculture was not productive enough to feed everybody and the dictatorship never bothered to develop it. Land was either abandoned or misused for monoculture of eucalyptus and pines for the production of paper. As most people now live in cramped cities on the coast, the rural areas away from the sea have extremely low population densities. Paradoxically, instead of this allowing the wild life to recover, it leads to massive wildfires, soil erosion and desertification. The original woods were cut down centuries ago and will not grow again without human intervention.

      Of course, everybody talks about desertification, but no action is actually taken. It would involve very big State intervention, and land owners don't want that, even when they don't give a flying fuck about the land they own. I know people that inherited pieces of land, they won't go there ever, they won't use it for agriculture, they won't associate with their neighbours to make the costs of maintenance lower, they won't allow the State to take over their land. They just have it planted with pines or eucalyptus and sit on their hands for years waiting to reap the benefits. But they don't do any maintenance. When a fire consumes all the trees, they just say "Oh, bad luck. Who gives a fuck?".

      When all my country becomes a barren desert, maybe those in power will bother.

      • by r1348 (2567295) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:19AM (#42258917)

        The solution is actually very easy: heavy taxation on improductive lands, while of course considering reforestation efforts as a productive activity.

        • by daem0n1x (748565) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:03AM (#42259141)

          That would be nice, but it's quite the opposite that happens. With the stupidity of European Common Agriculture Policy, If you have enough land you can live off subsidies without actually producing anything.

          The same issue happens with housing. We have enough high-quality houses for everybody, but many are empty. In our capital Lisbon alone, there are 50.000 empty houses because wealthy people use them as investments and don't want to bother to rent them. They just let them sit there empty, hoping their price increases to make a profit. Meanwhile, millions of new apartments have been built in completely chaotic suburbs around the city. Fortunately the current crisis killed the construction fever, but the empty houses are still empty.

          Every time anyone proposes the same fix you proposed he is violently attacked as a "delusional communist". While private property is kept as an absolute value over the common good, there will be no way to fix this. The politicians won't do anything because they're in the pockets of rich proprietors and real-estate speculators. Rentist parasites leaching on the rest of society, in the name of Free Market, Freedom of Enterprise and the Sanctity of Private Property. Ironic, isn't it?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I agree (AC from above). Brazil in particular does not have control over its land. This can be seen in city slums (favelas) and rural encampments. Often the local councillor will be a landowner, and will give himself authority to expand his holding.

            In cases where another (but less powerful) landowner has high quality land. An unscrupulous landowner may pay indigenous (Indians if you will) people to move onto competitors land, and will continue to pay a monthly stipend until rights are granted to the indigen

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by operagost (62405)
            You note that the European Common Agriculture Policy is impeding progress, yet blame it on the "free market"? It was short-sighted individuals who caused this mess, but clearly the socialist policies aren't fixing it. And tossing away the right to own property in the interest of the "common good" would be rash and cause long-term hardship. If you have great ideas for saving this land, why don't you draw up some plans, organize, and lobby for the government to purchase these neglected lands through a more
            • by daem0n1x (748565) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:56AM (#42261173)

              You note that the European Common Agriculture Policy is impeding progress, yet blame it on the "free market"? It was short-sighted individuals who caused this mess, but clearly the socialist policies aren't fixing it.

              Giving subsidies to useless rich fucks who happen to own a lot of land, while small owners are left in the cold is now Socialism? Oh fuck, I must have read the wrong books, then. But it sure is Free Market all the way, because the corollary to the neoliberal theories is that only the rich can suck on State's tits, all the others can't because that'd be Communism and promoting laziness.

              And tossing away the right to own property in the interest of the "common good" would be rash and cause long-term hardship.

              When exactly did I suggest that? Can't you guys see any colour besides black and white?

              If you have great ideas for saving this land, why don't you draw up some plans, organize, and lobby for the government to purchase these neglected lands through a more democratic process of eminent domain?

              Who says I don't? Who says they give a fuck? Money talks louder, dude.

              • by operagost (62405)

                Giving subsidies to useless rich fucks who happen to own a lot of land, while small owners are left in the cold is now Socialism?

                It certainly isn't capitalism. Government influencing the real estate market, and propping up the property rights of once group over another, is an example of misuse of state power. Don't give the state power to subsidize anyone, and they'll be forced to sell their useless land.

                Can't you guys see any colour besides black and white?

                What guys?

                • by daem0n1x (748565)

                  Giving subsidies to useless rich fucks who happen to own a lot of land, while small owners are left in the cold is now Socialism?

                  It certainly isn't capitalism.

                  In my country, the ruling classes have been destroying all the social benefits we conquered with the 74 revolution, in the name of "competition" and "market freedom". The State has been selling its assets at bargain price to capitalist friends. Many state services have already been transferred to private hands. They're talking about privatising what's left of it, like water, public TV, Social Security, education and health care. In all the cases, these privatisations involve the sale of a public service at

            • by operagost (62405)
              I love how my rather CENTRIST idea of lobbying for the use of eminent domain is somehow not left-wing enough for Slashdot moderators.
          • by Clsid (564627) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:49AM (#42260421)

            I live in Venezuela, and while we might be portrayed in the media as "delusional communists", that land issue was largely solved by government take over of improductive lands. Everybody that had land, either urban or rural got so scared that they got their stuff together and either sold what they weren't going to use or started making the ranches productive as hell. Same deal with urban land that was just there waiting to collect a big check when an area developed. I personally have relatives that were doing just that and after the National Guard started asking around who the owners of those plots were, they now have a nice car wash, a very small shopping center, a burger place and they are planning to build some homes in the remaining area.

            Call me a convert, because after watching all of this happen in less than 5 years, especially in a Latin American country, I really have to ask myself about the supposedly sacred value of private property.

            • I live in Venezuela, and while we might be portrayed in the media as "delusional communists", that land issue was largely solved by government take over of improductive lands.

              The reality is, in both capitalist and communist countries, when important resources are being squandered and wasted by their owners, and where the existing system of commerce cannot resolve the situation, it falls to the government to nationalise and reallocate those resources. People--in particular resource owners--don't like to admit to it, but that's how the world has to work if we are to avoid the "desertification" of entire economies.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Excellent post.

        As a European living in Brazil it is valuable to be able to refer to cases such as this when the issue comes up.

        But unfortunately, I believe short term-materialism will triumph over well considered, long-term enrichment.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        The people in power are only going to whine when their gravy train dries up.

        Until then they're laughing all the way to the bank.

      • , but no action is actually taken.

        Not entirely true: http://www.tamera.org/index.php?id=916&L=0 [tamera.org] But you are right that only some individuals seem to care...

    • by alphatel (1450715) *
      Best of luck changing things. Fines and arrests are frequently made for the processing of illegal lumber at small plants, the largest clearing houses are those owned by government officials, either as developers or loggers. The "people" are doing what they are told or at least paying for it. Those in charge escape all prosecution.

      For more on this and other plights of our changing world,. check out Urbanization [imdb.com] (yes it's on Netflix)
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Urbanization is what I call a FUDumentary. along with fast food nations and Gasland.

    • by afidel (530433)

      The forest will eventually regrow, unless they're salting the earth the same process that allowed the forest to once grow there will happen again. Watch any nature show on volcanoes and you'll realize how resilient life is, even on lava that's barely cooled you'll have first wave species growing so long as there is water available. The process might not be as fast as some people want it to be, but it's pretty much inevitable.

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        The difference you're missing is that with lava you have massively enriched soil.

        With deforestation you get exact opposite.

        Essentially you apply fauna-based "lava equals wiping of all I see as important", while flora based point of view is "look at all these new rich minerals in top soil to grow off!"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I am not going to Amazon anymore !! Ever !! Burn !! Baby !! Burn !!

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:42AM (#42258511)

    One of the things that have causes wildfire problems in the developed world is the perception that fire is bad and all fires must be put out. This has led to build up of fuel and hotter fires. Left alone forests will burn; usually started by lightning strikes. The thing is that the larger trees survive just fine. Their bark protects them and the fire clears out the brush and returns the nutrients to the soil. There are even trees that need fire to grow. The cone of a lodgepole pine needs the heat of a fire to open and release their seeds. If enough brush build up the fire gets hot enough to burn through the bark and the trees die.

    All the article states is that there are a large number of big fires. So what? All that means is that a large area is charred at one time. Charring is not necessarily bad; it clean out smaller and weaker plants to allow room for larger plants to grow. Those are good things when trying to grow a forest. It also cuts back undergrowth so that animals have freedom to move among the trees.The questions that need to be asked are as follows;
    1. Is there an erosion issue?
    2. Are the fires killing the small trees that could eventually become the forest?
    3. Are fires keeping the brush and grasses down so the trees can get a start?

    Perhaps the fires are a good thing in that they might allow larger plants to dominate and grow the forest faster. It appears no studies have been done on the effects of the fire; just that fires are happening.

    • The article actually does state the fires are bad:
      "Aside from clearing pristine forest and eliminating habitats for native species, the burning of such huge quantities of plant material pumps out massive amounts of carbon in to the atmosphere, and floods the soil with minerals and nutrients that are quickly washed away. It takes a long time for essential nutrients to be fixed in a rainforest, and releasing them all at once means pastures are viable for a few years before going totally bare."
      • Well, at least one of those is bunk. This is all taking place on cleared land, so the growth being burnt is new growth. The carbon it's "pumping out" into the atmosphere is carbon that it captured from the atmosphere recently. Carbon is a cycle; the only sort of carbon emission that matters is carbon that upsets that cycle - usually, from long-term sequestered sources, like fossil fuels and old-growth forests.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        That comment was in the context of intentionally creating large fires to clear virgin forest to create pasture. I agree that that is a bad practice. The rest of the article is about fires on already cleared and abandoned land. That is a different issue and has little to do with the initial clearing. Here is a quote stating what the subject of the article really is;

        By showing that abandoned farmland is more susceptible to destructive fires, the team hopes that local governments will put more emphasis on repurposing old land rather than clearing the new.

    • by bogjobber (880402)
      As far as I know (I am not a biologist) wildfires are relatively rare in rainforests. They definitely have not evolved to use fire in the same way forests in arid areas have.

      Also, as the article states, these wildfires are not occurring in the old growth forest, they are occurring in cleared land. I imagine any study of the natural fire system is not particularly useful in this case. There aren't any mature trees there to char, it's all low-lying stuff.
      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        That is true but the cleared land is no longer a rain forest and should no be expected to react like a rain forest. There are no studies on the effect of fires on cleared land that was formerly rainforest. The article is based on the assumption that, since burning in a rainforest is bad (a proven fact), burning in land that was formerly rain forest is also bad. That has yet be be proven. It might be bad and it might be good; there is no data to prove either hypothesis.

    • Here in Australia there is a subtle difference between a brush fire and a bush fire. A brush fire can help forests grow and indeed some species of trees can't germinate without it. A bushfire can kill a human with radiant heat from 200 meters away and melt a cars windscreen, it can have a column of smoke up to 15km high and can create it's own local weather, which incidentally is why they are sometimes called fire storms. Australia is currently getting the rain from the El-Nina phenomena and S.America is ge
      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        All true but here are a couple of differences;
        1. The fires are not in the rainforest but on land that was cleared and therefore no longer rainforest.
        2. The article states "big fires". That could mean a number of different things. It could be hot fires as you describe bush fires which will kill everything. It could also mean a low intensity fire that covers a large area and only burns grasses leaving small trees to thrive.

  • paradoxically, the land they're leaving behind is being ravaged by wildfires.

    Is that really paradoxical? Was everyone expecting it to return to rainforest gracefully?

  • I couldn't understand the title...until I read the first two lines of the blurb. It's THE Amazon NOT Amazon dot com!

  • Its cloud offering is pretty good.
  • Sounds to me like we have reach a tipping point where the "Rain" part of the rain forest is not enough to overcome the intense heat from the tropical sun. If that is the case we are royally fracked.

  • Non-urbanization left millions of lives burning AkA needlessly foreshortened, for anyone who's actually tracking outcomes.

  • ...how did the amazonian forests deal with wildfires?

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