The Amazon rain forest has existed for 10 million years. It might not survive the next 100
This article starts out with a lie. Amazonia was extensively inhabited by native people within historical memory. Does any reasonable person believe that the natives would have built great civilizations in Mexico and Peru (Aztecs and Incas) and at the same time ignored the vast expanse of the Amazonian lands?
The Spanish conquistadores and the priests who followed them reported great cities in the Amazon basin when they arrived and they called the area Amazonia. In the warm tropics of Amazonia however the diseases that the Spaniards brought with them spread like wildfire, wiping out whole cities at a time. And with their civilization destroyed, the few natives who survived reverted to primitive ways.
And there is one legacy of that past big settlement that you can see today: black soil. The natural Amazonian soils are thin and poor so the natives had to fertilize them to get the most out of them. And a principal way of doing that was by fire. Any vegetation that came to hand was burnt to enrich the soil. And that produced the black soil we see today. And "black" soils are found throughout Amazonia today.
So most of the forest in Amazonia is actually a recent growith, not much more than 400 years old. And what can grow once can grow again. There is no tragedy in turning forest into farms. And once the loggers have departed, the land does often become farms -- thus bringing Amazonia back to what it once was
Fuller details of all that here . I reproduce below just the opening blast from a very long-winded article in "Time" magazine
Five decades ago Brazil incentivized millions of its people to colonize the Amazon. Today their logging yards, cattle enclosures and soy farms sit on the fringes of a vanishing forest. Powered by murky sources of capital and rising demand for beef, a violent and corrupt frontier is now pushing into indigenous land, national parks and one of the most preserved parts of the jungle.
Brazil’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, an unapologetic cheerleader for the exploitation of the Amazon, has the colonists’ backs; he’s sacked key environmental officials and slashed enforcement. His message: the Amazon is open for business. Since his inauguration in January, the rate of deforestation has soared by as much as 92%, according to satellite imaging.
As human activity in the Amazon ramps up, its future has never been less clear. Scientists warn that decades of human activity and a changing climate has brought the jungle near a “tipping point.” The rain forest is so-called because it’s such a wet place, where the trees pull up water from the earth that then gathers in the atmosphere to become rain. That balance is upended by deforestation, forest fires and global temperature rises. Experts warn that soon the water cycle will become irreversibly broken, locking in a trend of declining rainfall and longer dry seasons that began decades ago. At least half of the shrinking forest will give way to savanna. With as much as 17% of the forest lost already, scientists believe that the tipping point will be reached at 20% to 25% of deforestation even if climate change is tamed. If, as predicted, global temperatures rise by 4°C, much of the central, eastern and southern Amazon will certainly become barren scrubland.
The fires that raged across the Amazon in August helped illuminate something the world can no longer ignore. Inside the crucible of this ancient forest, relentless colonization is combining with environmental vandalism and a warming climate to create a crisis. If things continue as they are now, the Amazon might not exist at all within a few generations, with dire consequences for all life on earth.
To understand what is truly happening to the world’s largest rain forest, TIME journeyed thousands of miles by road, boat and small plane this year to the front lines of deforestation. We spoke to loggers, tribespeople, environmentalists, ranchers and scientists. Despite growing outrage and threats by Western leaders to withhold trade with Brazil until Bolsonaro reverses course, on the ground we discovered the battle for the Amazon is close to being lost. The emboldened forces of development are running without restraint, and the stakes for the planet couldn’t be higher. As the official formerly responsible for Brazil’s deforestation monitoring, Ricardo Galvão, who was fired in August for defending his data on tree loss, told us, “If the Amazon is destroyed, it will be impossible to control global warming.”
The Amazon is 10 million years old. Home to 390 billion trees, the vast river basin reigns over South America and is an unrivaled nest of biodiversity. From blue morpho butterflies to emperor tamarins to pink river dolphins, biologists find a new species every other day.
The first humans migrated to the Amazon from Central America about 13,000 years ago. Up to 10 million tribespeople lived in fortified settlements, creating ceremonial earthworks, and cultivating fields and orchards. The Karipuna tribe roamed one enclave just south of where the Madeira River splinters into its tributaries amid rapids and waterfalls, in what today is the Brazilian state of Rondônia. The mouth of the Amazon sits 1,000 miles to the northeast. To the west and north the forest stretches into Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.
The European colonization of the Americas from 1492 saw settler plantations advance across the New World, bringing deforestation on a vast scale for farmland, firewood and houses. By the early 20th century, the world had lost trees that would have covered the Amazon rain forest at least once over, but its rain forest remained largely intact. Not so its inhabitants. As with many of the more than 300 tribes that survive in Brazil, contact with outsiders decimated the Karipuna’s numbers through illnesses such as measles and flu.
The 20th century saw more global tree loss than the rest of history. The Amazon, with vast mineral riches under its soil, finally came under threat. In 1964, Brazil’s military dictatorship took power and decreed the “empty” jungle was a security risk. It went on to create the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) to conquer the forest and make it an agricultural stronghold.
In the early 1970s, the government ran television ads for a new mecca of cheap land—and freedom. Bertola and his family, farm laborers descended from Italian immigrants to the south of Brazil, joined millions flooding northward on newly built highways. “Everyone had the same dream,” says Bertola, now 52. “It just meant deforesting it all.” Men like Bertola are the forward cavalry of deforestation. Where main roads are built, hundreds of makeshift logging tracks splinter offin a fish-bone pattern. The land is demarcated, often illegally, and lots are typically sold for a few hundred dollars by grileiros, or “land grabbers,” to poor farmers, who raze the forest and build communities.
Over time, electricity and phone lines arrive, and the jaguars that threaten the cattle disappear from the landscape. Once infrastructure is in place, wealthy tycoons buy up the land to build cattle ranches or vast fields of soy. Bertola and those like him track the frontier northward into the virgin forest.
Once in motion, expansion is relentless. In Brazil— one of nine countries in the Amazon basin—an area larger than Texas has been cut. Here in the frontier state of Rondônia, ranching is king, much economic activity is illegal, and state agents are bought offor outmuscled. Agri business in Brazil generates nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP, and the Amazon alone has over 50 million cattle.