The WWF – the ones with the Panda logo – have published a report on the details about “saving” the Amazon rain forest by putting a price tag on every thing, – sorry, assets is probably a better term-, that the rain forest possesses.
The report – Pita Verweij, Marieke Schouten, Pieter van Beukering, Jorge Triana, Kim van der Leeuw and Sebastiaan Hess. Keeping the Amazon forests standing: a matter of values, WWF-Netherlands 2009 – is presented here by Mongobay.
This bizarre fashion of price tagging everything starts with the realisation that the market mechanisms have failed the environment, which is a pretty good observation, but then proceeds to suggest that the very same paradigm of thinking – the economistic, capitalistic reductionist line of thinking – should simply also be applied to “the environment”, since it provides humans with valuable “ecosystems services“. If it is not tagged with a price, why care for it?
While this whole business, as it were, sounds rather disturbing (Can two wrongs make a right? Can a problem be solved from within the paradigm it was created? Einstein famously answered the latter question, of course), the report has some very good bits – it is a very comprehensive report that deserves wider attention, but the price tagging horror really does not appeal very much – at all – to colonos or any of the people we have worked with in the forest. Essentially, it sounds like a lose-lose scenario: either lose the forest or sell it to the highest bidder? And bidding is low these days of financial collapse, so one could hardly imagine worse timing for the publication of this report.
Interestingly, it has a pretty good section on IIRSA, which has been covered again and again here, but the section does not include reference to the Manta-Manaus/Manaos corridor. This goes to show just how big the “biggest infrastructure project in history” is: an otherwise detailed and comprehensive report does not need to list the Manta-Manaus corridor in order to show just how much of a horror show that IIRSA is threatening to be:
“3.2.2 Expansion of infrastructure (pp. 28-29)
The most important supranational infrastructure plan that affects the Amazon is the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA), which aims to promote the development of regional transportation, energy and telecommunications infrastructure, by improving the physical connections between the twelve South American countries. In December 2004, for example, the governments of Brazil and Peru agreed to construct the Transoceanic Highway, stretching from the Atlantic coast of Brazil across the Amazon and Andes to the Peruvian Pacific coast. This highway will carve a route through some of Peru’s most diverse primary rainforests and will affect the territories of currently isolated indigenous cultures.
The three main seaports of Brazil are located on the south-eastern coastline and handle nearly 80% of Brazil’s agricultural exports. However, as soy production moves into the interior, the cost of moving the product to the markets decreases the profitability and competitiveness of soy in these regions. Since 1996, the government has therefore launched several massive multiannual programs to construct infrastructure in the interior of the country. The programmes aim to improve transportation facilities and decrease the costs of moving the agricultural output from the interior to the port facilities, mainly by means of the Amazon River and its largest tributaries. The most recently development plan is known as PAC (growth acceleration plan 2007-2010).
Examples of major projects are the Madeira-Amazon waterway, in operation since 1997, facilitating the transportation of agricultural products, of which soy is the most important, from the state of Mato Grosso upstream to the Amazon port of Itacoatiara; the BR163 Highway from the southern city of Cuiaba in the state of Mato Grosso to the Amazon port of Santarem; the BR319 Highway in western Amazonia linking Porto Velho to Manaus; and the BR158 Highway running parallel at the east of the BR163. The planned paving of the 1,500 kilometre BR163 Highway by itself will open up 10 million ha of Amazon forest to exploitation (Van Gelder, 2006). In combination, the two roads cut through 1,800 km of forests, which currently have a low population density (Cattaneo, 2002). Of all deforestation occurring in the Brazilian Amazon, 85% occurs within a radius of 30 km from official roads. Bolivia is currently implementing its National Transport Development Plan. For Colombia, a transportation plan was developed by the National Social and Economic Policy Council (CONPES), which in the Amazon includes road construction and paving, and improvement of ports and waterways.
Many of these projects will create corridors between densely populated areas and the remote Amazonian frontier (Laurence 2001), facilitating the process of colonization, which subsequently leads to deforestation and other irreversible environmental effects. According to Cattaneo (2002) a 20% reduction in transportation costs for agricultural products from the Amazon increases deforestation by approximately 15% in the short term and 40% over the long term, which equates to an annual increase of 8,000 km2 of deforested area. The reduction in transportation costs would imply a considerable increase in the return on arable lands, thereby increasing the incentive to deforest. Hydroelectric projects are known to have caused the disappearance of large tracts of rainforest and are responsible for the emission of large volumes of greenhouse gasses. The emission of methane from hydroelectric reservoirs is particularly important since it is caused by the decomposition of plant material. The Balbina dam, for example, was responsible for the loss of 2,400 km2 of forest. The total area flooded is more than 3,000 km2, while the annual emissions initially were about 30.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The Tucurui reservoir caused the flooding of 2,430 km2 forest in 1984 and emitted 51.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. Only a few large hydropower plants have been completed or are near completion in the Amazon basin. Plans exist for more than 70 new plants,
flooding a total area of 100,000 km2.
A major project is the construction of two large hydroelectric power plants including dams on the Madeira River in the State of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon: Santo Antonio (installed capacity of 3,150 MW) and Jirau (3,300 MW). The project would have to satisfy 8% of the national demand for electricity, while the total cost currently exceeds US$ 9 billion, excluding the transmission lines. This would open a 4,200 km industrial waterway, allowing transport of soy and timber to Atlantic ports. Soy is expected to expand in the region by about 7 million ha, and another large area in Bolivia. Dams with a low installed capacity and large, shallow reservoirs tend to have a powerful impact on climate warming.”
Then, to return to the price tagging horror – consider this table (p. 4):
It is pretty straightforwardly spelled out: the value of the cultural and spiritual aspects of the forest are unknown – that is to the ecnomistic brain, whereas for the people who live in the forest those are its greatest values. So once more we see that the people of the Amazon (or elsewhere) are subjected to the White Man’s equations. We shall leave you with the following diagram (p. 9) to further illustrate how in the heaven’s name these people arrive at the “right” price tags, with no reference to the people or the spirit of the forest, – and if you want to read more about ecosystems services we recommend Sian Sullilvan’s recent article: