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One would think, then, that in light of these glaring disparities, the environmental movements in Brazil would be perceived as indigenous, as indeed they are, fostered by FUNAI (National Foundation of Indians) and "famished peasants." However, they are regarded as more unwanted imports from the "owners of power," in this case, the United States. This is problematical, considering that the environmental movement, "composed of some 800 organizations stirred into being by the uncontrolled destruction of the Amazon rain forest, ecological disasters in the grotesquely polluted chemical complex at Cubatao in Sao Paulo state, and rampant encroachment on the remnants of the once lush Atlantic forests" could otherwise be instrumental in creating a sustainable economy, despite the operational fact of the 'transformational' economic environment.
The physical setting
The Amazon rain forest covers 40% of Brazil's total territory or 2,722,000 square miles, and is the drainage basin for the Amazon River and its 15,000 tributaries. The underlying geology is comprised of two large, stable masses of Pre-Cambrian rock, the Guiana Shield or Highlands in the north and the Central Brazilian Shield or Plateau in the south. It is bounded to the west by the Andes Mountains and the river flows eastward, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. At a length of 4,195 miles, the Amazon basin is the largest river basin in the world. Its discharge into the Atlantic is about eight trillion gallons a day, 60 times greater than that of the Nile and eleven times that of the Mississippi. The mouth of the river is more than 250 miles wide, making this the largest estuarine area in the world, as well. Moreover, it is also deep, exceeding 150 feet throughout most of the Brazilian portion of the river; some parts near the mouth have evidenced depths as great as 300 feet. The river itself ranges from one to 35 miles wide.
It is unique in other was as well. The climate, with an average temperature of 79 degrees and average yearly rainfall of 80 inches, is the quintessential rain forest environment, and it has been around a very long time. The Amazon Rain Forest is thought to be the oldest such area in continuous existence, for as much as 100 million years.
However, despite the age and abundant water, the soil of the region is relatively infertile. This may help explain the ease with which the rain forest is destroyed. Still, its biodiversity, despite recent destructive episodes, is enormous, and may reasonably be proposed as the means for the salvation of the Amazon Basin itself and of Brazil's economy. One hectare (2.47 acres) of rain forest may containing more than 750 species of trees and 1,500 species of other plants; that same area is estimated to contain about 900 tons of living plants. Along with the Andean mountains, the region is thought to be home to more than half of the worlds' species of flora and fauna; in addition, one in five of all the birds in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon. Moreover, to date, "some 438,000 species of plants of economic and social interest have been registered in the region and many more have yet been cataloged or even discovered."
However, the very abundance of the region has, until now, also sown the seeds of its own destruction.
The Amazon Basin: How has it been mismanaged, and by whom?
Among those who have helped destroy the Amazon's ecologies are the World Bank, by funding large-scale agricultural and industrial schemes that the thin and fragile soils cannot support.
Logging accounts for a great deal of destruction, as well, and estimates of the "total amount of forest now cleared vary between five per cent and 20 per cent. Most independent experts now accept a figure of 12 per cent by 1985, of which 75 per cent had taken place since 1960.
Incidental and accidental incursions by humans have destroyed great tracts: "In 1974 a single fire set by Volkswagen destroyed 10,000 square kilometres of forest: the largest fire ever known." and, "In 1987, probably the worst year for deforestation so far, satellites detected 8,000 fires in the states of Rondonia and Mato Grosso between June and September. In that year, an area of 210,000 square kilometres, almost as big as the UK, was cleared."
Below is a chart showing the destruction of the Amazon rain forest:
LANDSAT Surveys: Deforestation
Area of forest cleared as a percentage of State or territory
Source: New Internationalist via National Zoo Web site
Brasil's government also needs a share of the blame. Its '2010 Plan' includes constructing 31 hydroelectric dams in the Amazon Basin, of which tow, Tucurui in Para and Balbina near Manaus, have been completed, flooding about 5,0000 square kilometres of rainforest. While this is a lamentable loss of habitat, even without counting the economic cost of the lost estuarine life (food, fish, etc.), the energy produced by Tucurui is used by aluminum smelters, which contribute their own pollution to the environment.
Where there is a dam, there must also be a highway to reach it, and arguably, to reach the development of industry and residential compounds it has permitted to be built. That being the case, non-indigenous people will bring non-indigenous diseases with them, as is arguably the case in the Balbina Dam area. There, Waimiri-Atroari Indian "have been decimated both by the dam and by the BR 174 Highway running north: in 1972 they numbered 3,000, but by the mid-1980s their numbers had been reduced to less than 300."
In addition, there are the "highways to hell," established to enhance the official government policy of colonizing Indian peoples, and converting them to the life of "agricultural peasants on one-square-kilometre size plots," arguably achieving what the colonials from the north, the U.S., had in mind 150 years earlier.
How to turn it around in Brazil's favor
There is a saying among New Thought aficionados that within every problem is its solution. That is the case with the Amazon. It extends over an area ten times the size of France. It makes up one-third of the globe's remaining tropical rain forest, and is home to 30% of all known plant and animal species. Better still, for the potential for sustainable development, it contains "80,000 known and at least 10,000 unknown species of tree." (Emphasis mine.) it also offers 3,000 known species of land vertebrates, 2,000 known species of fresh water fish (which is ten times as many as in all of Europe). Moreover, a single tree stump in the Bolivian portion of the basin was "found to house more ant species than the whole of the UK."
This is important because of the potential for developing both ecotourism and pharmaceuticals, arguably the two least damaging and most lucrative potential development possibilities for the region. In addition, both might easily make use of indigenous peoples' knowledge without turning them into peasants, or subjecting them to the disruption of superimposed 'technological' industries.
In addition, it is arguable that, in developing Brazil, all North Americans are not alike. As of the early 1990s, Canada, and not the U.S., was responsible for a number of ecologically sound development project in the Brazilian Amazon. Then, Canada was backing activities of the Council of Amazonia Cooperation "in the fields of natural resources development and environmental management; and helping obtain external resources for specific projects." Canada had contributed a little over $1 million between 1991 and 1993, although the Organization of American States had supported the sustainability projects going back to the 1980s to the amount of $1.4 billion (U.S.). The projects supported span almost 8 million square kilometers and affect more than 22 million people. Projects have included:
Physical planning and management of the San Miguel and Putumayo River Basins between Colombia and Ecuador (1986)
The model plan for the integrated development of the border communities along the Tabatinga-Apaporis axis between Colombia and Brazil (1987)
The plan for the integrated development of the Putumayo River Basin between Colombia and Peru (1988)
The integrated development plans for the Peruvian-Brazilian border communities (1988).
Notably, one of the results of these projects is identification of:
Environmental zones for resources management and sustainable development. Zoning helps divide large, unwieldy regions into smaller, more homogenous areas. In binational areas, governments can attempt to integrate transportation and communication systems, thus improving the management of resources.
Observers have concluded that zoning alone had significantly improved the situation for more than 18m000 Brazilian Indians. In general, physical and management planning can help the land settlement process to be oriented…[continue]
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If there is an aggregate sub-base, these can provide water quality treatment. There should be good compaction and appropriate geo-textiles especially for areas accessible to heavy vehicles. Permeable pavements reduce the need for deep excavations thereby providing a cost benefit. This system reduces the run-off rates and peak flow. The overall benefit is that it removes pollutants and holds water so that it does enter the main drainage. A lot