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The Amazon Has Lost More Than Ten Million Football Fields of Forest in a Decade

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Published Date:
Wed, 01 Jan 2020 12:30:00 +0000
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Our Planet
<p>This year, I was on the judging panel for the Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Decade.</p><p>Much like <a href="">Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” competition</a>, the international statistic is meant to capture the zeitgeist of this decade. The judging panel accepted nominations from the statistical community and the public at large for a statistic that shines a light on the decade’s most pressing issues.</p><p>On Dec. 23, we announced the winner: the <a href="">8.4 million</a> soccer fields of land deforested in the Amazon over the past decade. That’s 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields.</p><figure> <img alt="" src=""></figure><figcaption class="caption"> <span class="credits">(Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: <a href="" target="_blank">Mongabay</a>)</span> </figcaption><p>This statistic, while giving only a snapshot of the issue, provides insight into the <a href="">dramatic change to this landscape</a> over the last 10 years. Since 2010, mile upon mile of rainforest has been replaced with a wide range of commercial developments, <a href="">including cattle ranching, logging and the palm oil industry</a>.</p><p>This calculation by the committee is based on <a href="">deforestation monitoring</a> results from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, as well as <a href="">FIFA’s regulations</a> on soccer pitch dimensions.</p><h2><strong>Calculating the cost</strong></h2><p>There are a number of reasons why this deforestation matters – financial, environmental and social.</p><p>First of all, <a href="">20 million to</a> <a href="">30 million people live in</a> the Amazon rainforest and depend on it for survival. It’s also the home to <a href="">thousands of species of plants and animals</a>, many at risk of extinction.</p><p>Second, <a href="">one-fifth of the world’s fresh water</a> is in the Amazon Basin, supplying water to the world by releasing water vapor into the atmosphere that <a href="">can travel</a> thousands of miles. But unprecedented droughts have plagued Brazil this decade, <a href="">attributed to the deforestation</a> of the Amazon.</p><p><a href="">During the droughts</a>, in Sao Paulo state, some farmers say they lost over one-third of their crops due to the water shortage. The government promised the coffee industry almost US$300 million to help with their losses.</p><p>Finally, the Amazon rainforest is responsible for storing over <a href="">180 billion tons</a> of carbon alone. When trees are cleared or burned, <a href="">that carbon is released</a> back into the atmosphere. Studies show that <a href="">the social cost of carbon emissions is about $417 per ton</a>.</p><p>Finally, as <a href="">a November 2018 study shows</a>, the Amazon <a href="">could generate</a> over $8 billion each year if just left alone, from sustainable industries including nut farming and rubber, as well as the environmental effects.</p><h2><strong>Financial gain?</strong></h2><p>Some might argue that there has been a financial gain from deforestation and that it really <a href="">isn’t a bad</a> thing. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, went so far as to say that saving the Amazon is an <a href="">impediment to economic growth</a> and that “where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.”</p><p>In an effort to be just as thoughtful in that sense, let’s take a look. Assume each acre of rainforest converted into farmland is worth about $1,000, which is <a href="">about what U.S. farmers have paid</a> to buy productive farmland in Brazil. Then, over the past decade, that farmland amounts to about $1 billion.</p><p>The deforested land <a href="">mainly contributes</a> to cattle raising for slaughter and sale. There are a little over 200 million <a href="">cattle in Brazil</a>. Assuming the <a href="">two cows per acre</a>, the extra land means a gain of about $20 billion for Brazil.</p><p>Chump change compared to the economic loss from deforestation. The farmers, commercial interest groups and others looking for cheap land all have a clear vested interest in deforestation going ahead, but any possible short-term gain is clearly <a href="">outweighed by long-term loss</a>.</p><h2><strong>Rebounding</strong></h2><p>Right now, <a href="">every minute</a>, over three football fields of Amazon rainforest are <a href="">being lost</a>.</p><p>What if someone wanted to replant the lost rainforest? Many charity organizations are raising money to do just that.</p><p>At the cost of over <a href="">$2,000 per acre</a> – and that is the cheapest I could find – it isn’t cheap, totaling over $30 billion to replace what the Amazon lost this decade.</p><p>Still, the studies that I’ve seen and my calculations suggest that trillions have been lost due to deforestation over the past decade alone.</p>
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