Economic Development and Environmental Protection in Latin America

By Joseph S. Tulchin | Go to book overview

6
Alternative Rainforest Uses

John O. Browder

Forests cover more than a quarter of the Earth's surface; 27 percent of these forests are found in Latin America.Although many traditional forms of cutting enable tropical forests to recover cleared areas, the large-scale conversion of tropical forests has become one of the most controversial and widely publicized issues of our time. Estimates of the annual rate of tropical forest conversion range from 113,000 square kilometers—an area roughly the size of the state of Oklahoma—to 205,000 square kilometers. 1 Many legitimate concerns are being raised about the long-term environmental impact of extensive tropical forest conversion on biodiversity and species extinction, indigenous human populations, climate, hydrology, and soil conservation.Although the social costs associated with significant human disturbance of tropical forests are by no means precisely understood, there is a rapidly emerging consensus among scientists, economists, and conservationists that present patterns of tropical forest degradation are portentous. Calls throughout the 1980s for concerted international action to manage an unfolding ecological crisis included the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

Underlying the ecological crisis of tropical forest destruction is a dense amalgam of troubling social, economic, and political issues: rural poverty in developing countries, rapid population growth, food and energy deficiency, territorial sovereignty, foreign debt, and misguided modernization policies. The structure of the "deforestation problem" is multidimensional and organic; no single component of the problem exists in total isolation from the others.Tropical deforestation is not just

____________________
John 0. Browder is assistant professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

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