Amazon forest fires: Missing the forest for the trees

Emerging economies resist steeply reduced emissions norms on the grounds that the West didn’t have to contend with an environmental constraint when it rapidly industrialised.

Agencies
In Brazil, Amazon’s deforestation truly gathered pace from roughly 1990s.
Brazil is drawing the world’s, especially Europe’s, flak over Amazon forest fires. But history shows forest cover declined in Europe on a far larger scale as organised farming, manufacturing and urbanisation took off in the continent. This fact mirrors the larger argument on global warming — emerging economies resist steeply reduced emissions norms on the grounds that the West didn’t have to contend with an environmental constraint when it rapidly industrialised.

HERE ARE SOME KEY FACTS

80%of Europe had forest cover at the beginning of what is known as the Common Era, that is, the starting point of modern yearly calendar. To put it simply, we are in the 2019th year of the Common Era.


By 18th century, that is, beginning around 1700, forest cover in Europe dropped to 10%of the continent’s area.
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Most of this huge forest destruction happened over a century or so, when agriculture and livestock operations became more organised and forests were mined for raw material for manufacturing.

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In Brazil, Amazon’s deforestation truly gathered pace from roughly 1990s. Between 1990 and 2015, forest cover in Brazil dropped from 65% of the land area to 59%.

Brazil’s forest cover is dropping for reasons similar to those that powered Europe’s loss of forests in the 18th century — profitable modern farming and livestock activities, and logging.

Although the decline in Brazil is considered steep by critics, it’s worth noting that Europe lost a lot more forest cover as it began to modernise.
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Conversely, Europe wouldn’t have achieved its status as the world’s first industrial powerhouse had that gargantuan sacrifice of forest area not happened.
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Europe also shows how long and protracted the process of afforestation can be.

Forest cover in Europe is around 35% now. But it has taken centuries since the 18th century, when forest cover fell to 10%, to get there, despite Europe’s resources.
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Source: Our World in Data, Global Forest Watch
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