Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

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

Online Media

Catalog Data

Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine  Search this
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Wed, 01 Jan 2020 12:30:00 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Articles
Science
Our Planet
Description:
<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="https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2019/">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="https://www.statslife.org.uk/">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="https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/Svv4wNL8QLCmKNlz2ylK2WIRdVo=/800x0/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/3a/34/3a345f84-fd67-4d5f-8cc3-87b98d2d8e53/screen_shot_2019-12-30_at_45545_pm.png"></figure><figcaption class="caption"> <span class="credits">(Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: <a href="https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/deforestation_calculations.html" target="_blank">Mongabay</a>)</span> </figcaption><p>This statistic, while giving only a snapshot of the issue, provides insight into the <a href="https://theconversation.com/in-brazils-rainforests-the-worst-fires-are-likely-still-to-come-122840">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="https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/forests/deforestation_fronts2/deforestation_in_the_amazon/">including cattle ranching, logging and the palm oil industry</a>.</p><p>This calculation by the committee is based on <a href="http://www.obt.inpe.br/OBT/assuntos/programas/amazonia/deter">deforestation monitoring</a> results from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, as well as <a href="https://img.fifa.com/image/upload/khhloe2xoigyna8juxw3.pdf">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="https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_people.html">20 million to</a> <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/amazon">30 million people live in</a> the Amazon rainforest and depend on it for survival. It’s also the home to <a href="https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-animals-live-in-the-amazon-rainforest.html">thousands of species of plants and animals</a>, many at risk of extinction.</p><p>Second, <a href="https://www.livescience.com/57266-amazon-river.html">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="https://eos.org/articles/deforestation-could-exacerbate-drought-in-the-amazon">can travel</a> thousands of miles. But unprecedented droughts have plagued Brazil this decade, <a href="https://daily.jstor.org/deforestation-lead-drought/">attributed to the deforestation</a> of the Amazon.</p><p><a href="https://www.as-coa.org/articles/brazil-update-historic-drought-takes-toll-agriculture">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="https://interactive.pri.org/2018/10/amazon-carbon/science.html">180 billion tons</a> of carbon alone. When trees are cleared or burned, <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/amazon-rainforest-is-taking-up-a-third-less-carbon-than-a-decade-ago">that carbon is released</a> back into the atmosphere. Studies show that <a href="https://www.vox.com/2018/9/26/17897614/climate-change-social-cost-carbon">the social cost of carbon emissions is about $417 per ton</a>.</p><p>Finally, as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0175-0">a November 2018 study shows</a>, the Amazon <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bje7wd/the-amazon-is-worth-more-money-left-standing-study-shows">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="https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/08/26/why-everything-they-say-about-the-amazon-including-that-its-the-lungs-of-the-world-is-wrong/#6e56c7b35bde">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="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/climate/brazil-election-amazon-environment.html">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="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/09/2012913112137744956.html">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="https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching">mainly contributes</a> to cattle raising for slaughter and sale. There are a little over 200 million <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2019/july/brazil-once-again-becomes-the-world-s-largest-beef-exporter/">cattle in Brazil</a>. Assuming the <a href="https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1167344.pdf">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="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bje7wd/the-amazon-is-worth-more-money-left-standing-study-shows">outweighed by long-term loss</a>.</p><h2><strong>Rebounding</strong></h2><p>Right now, <a href="http://terrabrasilis.dpi.inpe.br/app/dashboard/alerts/legal/amazon/aggregated/en">every minute</a>, over three football fields of Amazon rainforest are <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-losing-3-football-fields-worth-of-rainforest-per-minute-2019-8">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="https://www.eniday.com/en/technology_en/largest-reforestation-project-rainforest/">$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>
Topic:
Custom RSS  Search this
See more posts:
Smithsonian Article Database
Data Source:
Smithsonian Magazine
EDAN-URL:
edanmdm:posts_39ef8527be9d1d25547f0e05b5ba623f