Breakfast of Biodiversity

The model that is reoccurring begins with capitalists finding an opportunity to profit on, such as bananas. They buy land cheap or steal it and import workers. There becomes boom followed by an inevitable bust, upon which the capitalists leave. The workers then try to find jobs but to no avail and find land on which to become subsistence farmers. The last step requires that even more forest is cut down using slash and burn methods.

The prevailing, but failing, form of conservation seen today is raised money goes to buying and protecting land which become islands surrounded by unprotected forest that continues to be cut down. The authors stress that this current model is not the right one. They suggest that collective change is the key.

One widely believed school of thought regarding deforestation is overpopulation. Another related but different idea is that it is not the amount of people, but that it is companies seeking profit, and creates a need for the resources stripped from the land.

The authors point out that our metaphors for the complex rainforest are largely wrong and then give a lesson in understanding the nuances in the functions of rainforests. Some believe that the rainforests are precariously fragile, and that it is like a house of cards where each card supports another and removing one causes the rest to fall. The other common belief is that the rainforest is the epitome of adaptation and stability, capable of withstanding a great deal of pressure. The truth lies somewhere in between, there are indeed many connections and while they rely on one another, the forests represent a high level of evolution through adaptability.

The unbelievably diverse and complex rainforests rest on very poor soil which is only productive for a few years. The common practice of burning the forest also leads to a short period of fertile soil. One way to reduce the amount of forest used would be to locate areas of productive soil and use those so that forest needs to be cut does less often.

There is a two way road between the amounts of land used for agriculture; agriculture increases the population, but overproduction leads to less land being used.

“Agriculture has become part of the developed world’s industrial system”. This lends to the theory of dependency. The global south does not have a base of development and then becomes a way for the global north to increase their consumption.

One of the issues is at the local level; peasants use logged land instead of allowing the forest to grow back. Selective cutting is not a better solution. It creates roads for peasants and miners to follow. Also, the trees that are left are then worse off, and progressively less and less profitable trees regenerate. Surprisingly, increasing the number of agriculture tree farms may help the rainforest may taking strain away from using rainforest land.

Politically, the United States war in Vietnam caused much strife for the rest of the world by giving the global south the idea of a struggle for independence. It also forced the U.S. off the gold standard, destabilizing the economy and the failure in Vietnam took much of the moral authority away from the U.S.

Despite Costa Rica having one of the largest percentages of protected land and such progressive conservation laws, rainforest in the country is disappearing at a rate of 7% per year.

The authors propose that local jobs be the focus of international efforts in the future followed by sustaining existing farmers and finally making ecotourism a direct benefit to the locals. They admit that this probably won’t work.

Since sustainability is seen as a restraint for profit, it will not be seen as a priority. If profits will be lessened, people today simply won’t get on board. From 1995 to 2005, the authors have changed their outlook from pessimistic to having a tinge of optimism. I wonder what they would say if they updated the book for 2012 after economic downturns and other recent global issues.

The end of the book ties in very well with the rest of our readings for the year, asking what exactly the rainforests purpose is. This is something that will greatly decide its future. Is it a place where we just look at birds or is it meant for humans to clear for profit and resources. We must first be clear and decide these things before we determine how to save the rainforests.

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