Fwd: The Rainforest Myth

Karl Davies karl at daviesand.com
Sun Jul 2 06:29:16 EST 2000


Forwarding this from sci.environment.

AMAZON.CON -- Part 1
Shaky science behind
save-rainforest effort
New TV documentary finds
skeptics among researchers

Editor's note: Through a special arrangement with the producers of the
television newsmagazine American Investigator, WorldNetDaily brings you
this
exclusive news report. Part one of this two-part series focuses on
questions
about the scientific integrity of environmentalists. The series
concludes
tomorrow in WorldNetDaily.
By Marc Morano and Kent Washburn
© 2000, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.

Patrick Moore became an instant celebrity in 1977 when a photograph
showing
him cradling a baby seal in defiance of arrest by Canadian authorities
was
broadcast around the world.
As the front man for the environmental activist group Greenpeace, he
helped
turn public opinion around on the high-profile issues of whaling, seal
hunting, nuclear power and chemical pollution.
Today the environmental scientist and leader of a group called
Greenspirit
has a new cause -- alerting the public to what he calls the "myth" that
the
Amazon rainforest is endangered by development and deforestation.
"The Amazon is actually the least endangered forest in the world,"
states
Moore in American Investigator's television newsmagazine documentary,
"Clear-cutting the myths," hosted by former CBS and CNN newsman Reid
Collins. Moore explains that, in the 20 years of warnings about
deforestation, "only 10 percent of the Amazon has been converted to date

from what was original forest to agriculture and settlement."
The finding that the Amazon rainforest threat is a myth based on bad
science
and political agendas -- especially by unlikely critics such as Moore,
other
scientists and inhabitants of the region -- is not expected to sit well
with
a movement that has enlisted schoolchildren throughout the United States
and
celebrities ranging from Sting to Alex Baldwin to Chevy Chase to Tom
Jones
and Tony Bennett. And which has also raised tens of millions of dollars
for
environmental activist groups.
"This is where I really have a problem with modern-day
environmentalism,"
says Moore. "It confuses opinion with what we know to be true, and
disguises
what are really political agendas with environmental rhetoric. The fact
of
the matter is: There is a larger percentage of the Amazon rain forest
intact
than there are most other forests in this world."
Moore left Greenpeace, the organization he helped found, in 1986, after
finding himself at odds with other leaders of the group.
"We had already helped the world turn the corner on the environmental
issues," he said. "Once a majority agrees with you, its time to stop
beating
them over the head and sit down with them and try to figure out some
solutions."
Yet, the notion that the Amazon jungles are threatened remains embedded
in
the popular culture:
The 1993 animated feature, "Ferngully: The Last Rainforest," takes the
Amazon's mystical charm literally, showing magical rainforest fairies
fighting for their lives against industrialist's chainsaws and
bulldozers.
National Geographic's "Rainforest: Heroes of the High Frontier" warns
that
"despite efforts to save it, the rainforest is being consumed at an
unprecedented rate."
"Amazonia: A Celebration of Life" shows playful jungle animals being
rudely
awakened to the sound of chainsaws.
The 1992 Sean Connery feature "Medicine Man" shows Connery discovering
the
cure for cancer at his makeshift lab in the heart of a burning Amazon
rainforest. He loses the cure when developers raze his facility in order
to
build a road.
Environmental groups from Greenpeace to the Sierra Club to the World
Wilderness Foundation to the Environmental Defense Fund to the
Smithsonian
Institution conduct outreach efforts in the name of the rainforest.
Dozens
of other groups with names like Rainforest Relief, Rainforest Action
Network
and Rainforest Foundation were created for the sole purpose of
exploiting
the issue.
A tourist to Brazil who picks up a "Lonely Planet" travel book will read

numerous pleas for help: "Unless things change ... Indians will die with

their forests," it pleads. "Invaluable, irreplaceable Amazon may be lost

forever."
"Lonely Planet" has company on the bookshelf: "At the current rate of
deforestation," Vice President Gore writes in "Earth in the Balance,"
"Virtually all of the world's tropical rainforests will be gone partway
though the next century."
The scientific evidence paints a much brighter picture of deforestation
in
the Amazon. Looking at the NASA Landsat satellite images of the
deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest, about 12.5 percent has
been
cleared. Of the 12.5 percent, one half to one third of that is fallow,
or in
the process of regeneration, meaning that at any given moment up to 94
percent of the Amazon is left to nature. Even the Environmental Defense
Fund
and Sting's Rainforest Foundation concede, among the fine print, that
the
forest is nearly 90 percent intact.
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 rainforests
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 rainforests today than there were 12,000 years
ago."
Moore maintains that "the rainforests 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.
In "Amazonia," 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 in the last four years
"an
area the size of France was destroyed."
Actor William Shatner in a National Geographic documentary claims that
worldwide, "Rainforest 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 the 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 there is huge destruction going
on."
However, Moore says that the only way such huge numbers are generated is
by
using double accounting. "You would have cleared 50 times the size of
the
Amazon already if accurate."
Luis Almir, of the state of Amazonas in Brazil calculated using five
football fields a minute and concludes sarcastically that if the numbers

were correct, "we would have a desert bigger than the Sahara."
Another familiar claim of the environmentalist community is that the
Amazon
constitutes the "lungs of the earth," supplying one-fifth of the world's

oxygen. But, according to Antonio Donato Nobre of INPE, and other
eco-scientists, the Amazon consumes as much oxygen as it produces, and
Stott
says it may actually be a net user of oxygen.
"In fact, because the trees fall down and decay, rainforests actually
take
in slightly more oxygen than they give out," says Stott. "The idea of
them
soaking up carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen is a myth. It's only
fast-growing young trees that actually take up carbon dioxide."
Stott maintains that the tropical forests of the world are "basically
irrelevant" when it comes to regulating or influencing global weather.
He
explains that the oceans have a much greater impact.
"Most things that happen on land are mere blips to the system, basically

insignificant," he says.
Many environmentalists claim that tens of thousands of species are being

driven to extinction every year because of the destruction of tropical
forests like the Amazon:
A video called "Amazonia Celebration" states in dire tones: "We alone
will
have to bear the blame for the greatest mass extinction since the
disappearing of the dinosaur some 60 million years ago."
"An average of 35 species becomes extinct every day" as a result of
deforestation, says Rainforest Action Network.
"30,000 species per year," or 83 per day, says the "Hall of
Biodiversity"
website.
Al Gore in "Earth in the Balance" writes of "100 extinctions each day."
Rainforest Relief's Keating weighs in with a hefty "450 species lost per

day."
Most of these estimates are rooted in the research of Harvard's Edward
O.
Wilson, featured by Time magazine as an environmental "hero" in its
special
Earth Day 2000 edition. In the accompanying article, Wilson argues
passionately to stem the tide of extinctions "now 100 to 1,000 times as
great as it was before the coming of humanity" -- neglecting to mention
that
his estimates of 50,000 extinctions per year are based on his own
computer
models.
"There is no scientific basis for saying that 50,000 species are going
extinct," says Greenspirit's Moore. "I want a list of Latin species."
Moore maintains no one can name these species that are said to be going
extinct.
"The only place you can find them is in Edward O. Wilson's computer at
Harvard University. They're actually electrons on a hard drive," Moore
states.
When asked if he can name a single species of the 50,000 that are said
to go
extinct, Keating admits: "No we cannot, because we don't know what those

species are."
Moore is flabbergasted by such statements.
"You're telling me that I'm supposed to prove that those species didn't
go
extinct when they're not there anymore and we never knew they were there
in
the first place?" Moore asks rhetorically. "That's impossible. I don't
know
how Wilson can truck out the number 50,000 and keep a straight face."
Stott agrees that the focus on species loss is misguided from a
scientific
point of view.
"The earth has gone through many periods of major extinctions, some much

bigger, let me emphasize, than even being contemplated today and 99.9999

percent (of all species) and I wouldn't know the repeating decimal have
gone
extinct. Extinction is a natural process," he asserts.
Another claim the environmental movement makes is that fires are
destroying
the Amazon. The late 1980s are generally regarded as record seasons for
burning in the Amazon, inspiring books with titles such as "Decade of
Destruction," "Green Fires: Assault on Eden" and even the 1994 Hollywood

film, "The Burning Season."
In recent years, it was reported that fires in the late 1990s equaled or

even surpassed those of the peak "burning season" of the '80s. The Woods

Hole Research Institute maintains that up to half of the Amazon
rainforest
is "a tinderbox about to go up in flames."
Moore counters: "To say that half of the Amazon rainforest is going to
go up
in smoke is just crazy. Of course it's not. That's completely ridiculous
and
extremist. But, let's say a large portion of the rainforest burned. The
next
thing that will happen is it will grow back again."
A 1995 study backs up Moore. The scientists concluded: "The incidence of

burning cannot be taken as a direct indicator of deforestation rates."
By
combining satellite data, on-site visit information, and years of
topographic data, the researchers concluded that most of the new fires
were
not being set to deforest new tracts of forest. Rather, they were lit to

keep already cleared areas from growing back.
The 1994 feature film "The Burning Season" features Raul Julia as Chico
Mendes, shouting, "This soil is useless!" at chainsaw-wielding loggers.
"You
can't even grow weeds in this soil! This land is no good once the trees
are
gone!" A World Wildlife Fund documentary called "Amazonia: A Celebration
of
Life" states: "Poor tropical soil is virtually incapable of supporting
life."
Moore disputes the soil claims, saying that much of the Amazon is
extremely
fertile.
"There's a myth, of course, that once you cut the trees down in the
Amazon,
the soil turns to cement," he states. Moore believes you can "find
examples
of very poor soils in the Amazon," noting it's almost as big as the
continental U.S.
Merle Faminow, a professor from the Federal University of Parana,
Brazil,
agrees. According to Faminow's research, the Amazon has a "wide and
varied
range of soil properties" and only "8 percent of the soil is classified
as
having a high erosion risk." He concludes that "there is ample
scientific
and practical evidence to confirm that agriculture can be carried out in
a
profitable and sustainable manner."
Antonio Donato Nobre and Bruce Nelson are two scientists working with
the
Institute for Research in Amazonia or INPA in Brazil who make no mistake

about their quest to preserve the Amazon.
"I say to you, deforestation is completely, absolutely not justifiable
in
any circumstance," shouts Nobre. "And I have a conviction about this. I
strongly believe that when you develop, you harm the environment."
Asked about the 50,000 species that go extinct, Nelson responds: "Those
are
assumptions. It was an estimate of the number of species that might
exist in
the tropical forests of the world." When confronted with the travel
book,
"Lonely Planet's 'Brazil,'" which repeats many of the claims of massive
species extinction, fires raging out of control and the belief that the
"Amazon may be lost forever," Nobre and Nelson get uncomfortable.
Nobre roars, "There is a lot of overblowing -- a lot of people
projecting
their egos in NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and environmentalist

movements, etc. This is wrong!" he shouts as he holds up the book. "This
is
a bad way ... This does a disservice to the truth." Nobre believes,
"When
you overblow the facts, you are actually comprising the actual
importance of
it."
Stott believes the more scrutiny the "Save the Amazon" cause gets, the
more
the bad science will be exposed.
"When we actually look at these myths -- this is what is terrifying
about
them -- when we look at the science, we suddenly find that these myths
are
just unsupportable, 'unsustainable,' to use a nice green term. They just

don't make sense."
Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief, who calls the destruction of
rainforests
"the greatest ecological catastrophe," nonetheless concedes that the
Amazon
"is still the largest area of tropical rainforest left on earth, and has

probably the lowest volume of clearing that has occurred of any large
rainforest areas in the world."
Moore, however, believes that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the

conventional wisdom that the Amazon is about to disappear will remain
the
conventional wisdom for some time. He says, "If people ... actually go
to
the Amazon, go to Manaus, get on a river boat, and go up or down the
Amazon
for hundreds of miles, go inland and look for yourself and fly over it,
(they) will see that you can fly for three hours over solid forest and
really not see any sign of human habitation. It is not all burning up.
It
has not all been destroyed. And there really is no chance that it will
be in
the foreseeable future."
The idea that a cleared rainforest can grow back is an idea that is not
accepted by most environmental campaigns and the popular culture.
Yet recent studies indicate that trees do in fact regrow very well in
rainforests. A 1998 study by Charles Cannon of Duke University found
that
eight years after industrial logging in Indonesian rainforests, recovery
of
both native flora and fauna far exceeded expectations. In Borneo, logged

forest contained just as many tree species as unlogged forest.
"These findings warrant reassessment of the conservation potential of
large
tracts of commercially logged tropical rainforest," wrote Cannon.
Science magazine contributor Robin Chazdon, an ecologist at the
University
of Connecticut, says: "You can find species that will show increased
growth
and increased population as a result of logging."
"There are many, many tree species that we see commonly in the tropical
flora whose regeneration is not occurring in natural forests. They
require
large scale disturbances," she says.
Moore sees a contradiction or double standard in the way
environmentalists
look at the Amazon vis-à-vis forests in the United States.
"On the one hand, you will hear environmentalists in the United States
say
we should be letting more fires burn in our forests, because it's a
natural
part of the ecology," he points out. "On the other hand, when fires burn
in
the Brazilian rain forest, they act as though the ecosystem is coming to
an
end."
Throughout the Amazon, scientists are discovering that plant life that
may
help cure human disease is thriving in recovering forests, and
scientific
reforestation efforts are paying off in parts of the Amazon.
In 1982, miners cleared a large tract of land in Western Brazil. Once
finished, they hired scientists to reforest the territory. New studies
show
that the rejuvenated forest is virtually indistinguishable from its
original
form. Ninety-five percent of the original animal species have returned,
prompting many to believe that "sustainable logging" can lower costs and

increase productivity and help prove that man and nature can, indeed,
co-exist in the Amazon.
Brazilian Brigadier Gen. Thaumaturgo Sotero Vaz, who spent 39 years in
the
military, 18 of them in the heart of the Amazon, finds it humorous that
anyone would doubt the jungle's ability to recover.
"That's very funny," he says. "They don't know the Amazon, believe me.
Because all these lands in the north, west, it's almost untouchable
because
of this great capacity of regeneration," he explains.
Logging and burning of the forests can actually benefit some small
species
of flora, say scientists. Chazdon's research center in the rainforests
of
Costa Rica has found that the large "treetop canopy" created by dense
foliage hundreds of feet above ground blocks sunlight which small
competing
species need to thrive.
"When dominant [species] were removed through logging," she says, "there
was
an enhancement of what we would call the 'suppressed species.'"
Many of these suppressed species are what environmentalists typically
point
to as the species most worthy of preservation -- those with medicinal
properties. The Natural Resources Defense Council's "Rainforest Book:
How
You Can Save the World's Rainforests," calls the rainforest "a fantastic

medicine cabinet" with plants that contain ingredients essential to
"antibiotics, painkillers, heart drugs and hormones." Of the "3,000
plants"
identified as having cancer-fighting properties," it continues, "70
percent
of them are native to the rainforest."
Chazdon discovered that "in secondary forests that are 15 to 20 years
old,
the overall abundance of species that have medicinal uses is higher
compared
to the older forests."
Of further benefit is the tendency of younger forests to consume more
carbon
dioxide than older forests. For those worried about global warming,
deforestation can actually be an ally, say scientists.
"Trees in (young) forests grow at a phenomenal rate," says Chazdon, "and

they are taking a lot of carbon dioxide out of the air and putting it in

their own tissues and in the soil. That is reducing the amount of carbon

dioxide that would otherwise be present in the atmosphere."
Chazdon believes that all of these reasons are leading to "a growing
recognition of the value of secondary forests."
Despite all of this mounting scientific evidence supporting
regeneration,
many still want to keep mankind out of the Amazon and other tropical
forests. Chazdon believes that it is not very realistic to keep man out.

"No matter how hard we try," she says, "it's hard to put a lock and key
on
the forests." She points out that great civilizations once inhabited
Central
and South America and newly discovered charcoal deposits and
agricultural
artifacts suggest that humans have repeatedly burned the rainforest. "We
are
part of the long history of humans that have relied on these forests and

used them," pointing out that "the Mayan Empire deforested huge areas of

Central America."
Tomorrow:
The human cost of the "save the Amazon" cause.
The video documentary, "Amazon Rainforest: Clear-Cutting the Myths,"
discussed in this report is available from WorldNetDaily's online store.




Marc Morano is the correspondent and co-producer for American
Investigator's
"Amazon Rainforest: Clear-Cutting the Myths." Kent Washburn is his
co-producer.

--
Karl Davies, Practicing Forester
Politics of Forestry
http://www.daviesand.com/Papers/Politics/

"First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you. Then you win."
                                     -- Gandhi







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