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Home » Tearing down the Amazon does not bring prosperity to most Brazilians

Tearing down the Amazon does not bring prosperity to most Brazilians

  • Advocates of deforestation in Brazil often argue that clearing the Amazon is an effective way to alleviate poverty. This is especially the case for the Bolsonaro government, whose environment minister declared at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference that “where there is a lot of forests there is also a lot of poverty”.
  • Ahead of next Sunday’s elections, a group of ours led by Darren Norris, from the Federal University of Amapá, decided to see what the data says about the links between deforestation and poverty in the Amazon.
  • We found no association between forest loss and these economic indicators. Rates for municipalities with less than 40% forest cover in 1986 were not different from those for similar municipalities with more than 60% forest cover from 1986 to 2019.
  • The finding, therefore, suggests that “deforestation does not necessarily generate food production systems or lead to poverty alleviation,” as we wrote.

Advocates of deforestation in Brazil often argue that clearing the Amazon is an effective way to alleviate poverty. 

Joaquim Leite, Minister of the Environment, for example, declared at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference that “where there is a lot of forests there is also a lot of poverty”, suggesting that forest cover is inversely related to human well-being.

However, solid evidence to support this claim is rarely offered.

Ahead of next Sunday’s elections – which pits Jair Bolsonaro, who presided over a sharp increase in logging in the Amazon, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has overseen a sharp drop in deforestation, into direct confrontation – a group of ours led by Darren Norris, from the Federal University of Amapá, decided to see what the data say about the links between deforestation and poverty in the Amazon.

Specifically, we wanted to see whether the arguments put forward by deforestation advocates stand up to scrutiny.

To do so, we analyzed forest change and economic indicators for nearly 800 municipalities covering nearly 5 million hectares in the Brazilian Amazon from 2002 to 2019.

We used average wages, the existence of sanitation plans, and internet connectivity as economic indicators. to assess this issue. They are not comprehensive data, but they are important gauges of economic development.

We found no association between forest loss and these economic indicators. The rates for municipalities with less than 40% forest cover in 1986 were not different from those of similar municipalities with more than 60% forest cover from 1986 to 2019.

The finding thus suggests that “deforestation does not necessarily generate production systems of food or lead to poverty alleviation,” as we wrote.

Economic indicators and change in forest cover. Comparison of three economic indicators between forest cover classes.

Annual trends from 2006 to 2019 (A to C) and partial GAM graphs (D to F) of three economic indicators, from top to bottom: Gross Agricultural Value Added per capita, Gross Domestic Product per capita, and wages.

These indicators are compared across a subset of 357 municipalities with contrasting proportions of natural forest cover.

Municipalities are grouped into three classes of forest cover using the percentage of natural forest cover in 1986 as the reference level (“low”: less than 40%, “medium”: more than 60% in 1986 but less than 50% in 2019 and “high ” more than 60% in 1986 and 2019.

Therefore, the Bolsonaro administration’s assertion that Brazilians in the Amazon cannot escape poverty without cutting down forests does not appear to be a valid argument based solely on economic data.

The ecological services provided to local communities by healthy and productive forests are not evaluated here. 

Consideration of these benefits, which are often undervalued, would further weaken the argument of deforestation advocates.

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