The finding undercuts the argument that deforestation, which causes 20% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, leads to long-term development. Conservationists showed that communities develop rapidly but temporarily when forests are cleared. When the loggers move on and resources are depleted, development rates quickly fall back below national average levels.
In their study, a team of international scientists analysed the life expectancy, literacy and income of people living in 286 areas around the Brazilian Amazon. The boom-and-bust cycle occurred, they found, because newly available resources in a cleared area attract investment and infrastructure. New roads, for example, can lead to better access to education, medicine and better living conditions overall.
When the resources have dwindled, however, communities often are left with unproductive land – and higher populations to sustain with diminished resources. The situation pushes down the standard of living.
“The Amazon is globally recognised for its unparalleled natural value, but it is also a very poor region,” said the study’s lead author, Ana Rodrigues of the Centre of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in France. “It is generally assumed that replacing the forest with crops and pastureland is the best approach for fulfilling the region’s legitimate aspirations to development.” The study did not substantiate that assumption.
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