Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Worldview: Doce River Disaster

“The Bitterness of the Doce River—One Year Later”

By Lise Sedrez

It was way worse than I thought.

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Sludge floating on the Rio Doce. Photographs: Lise Sedrez.

Over the last three days, with a group of colleagues, I looked at the Rio Doce and asked myself how we could have done this to the river. Rio Doce has nurtured Brazilian history for hundreds of years, offering water, wealth, food, joy, and beauty. We repaid it by poisoning it with mercury in gold mining operations in the past, polluting it to critical levels with PET bottles and raw sewage, destroying its riparian vegetation and, finally, burying 600 km of it under tons of mining waste.

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Worldview: No Such Thing as the End of History: Good News from the Amazon

This week, we bring you a new Perspectives volume in Portuguese and exciting developments from the Amazon rainforest.

The RCC Perspectives 2013/7 volume entitled New Environmental Histories of Latin America and the Caribbean has just been published in Portuguese, translated by former RCC intern Filipa Soares. It includes short histories both of individual countries and regions in Latin America, and “transverse histories” of geographical features and land use practices such as forests, ranching, mining, and cities. This volume, which was edited by Claudia Leal, John Soluri, and José Augusto Pádua, is now available in three languages—Portuguese, English, and Spanish.

José Augusto, a current Carson fellow, also contributed to the volume with a piece on Brazilian rainforest history. Last month, he presented his research on this field as part of RCC’s Lunchtime Colloquium.

He adds the following postscript to his talk:

During my talk at the Lunchtime Colloquium, we saw an 84% reduction in the yearly level of deforestation (4,600 square kilometers) in the Amazon from July 2004 to July 2012 , but that we experienced a setback from August 2012 to July 2013, with an increase of 28% (5,800 square kilometers). We were discussing at that time if it was just a fluctuation or the beginning of a U curve.

The preliminary numbers for the period from August 2013 to May 2014 were just released. According to the best independent research center, Imazon, we had a 49% decrease in deforestation compared to the previous year. Very good news!  But we still have to wait for June and July to see the complete figures. Anyway, the absolute number is still big: the second highest deforestation level in the world after Indonesia, although Indonesia’s forests are relatively small compared to the Amazon. The federal government promises to bring the level down to 3,300 square kilometers by 2020. But, if we return to the path of the reduction of Amazon deforestation, we can increase social pressures to achieve zero deforestation in the coming years: something I would have considered completely impossible in the recent past. There is no such thing as the end of history.

You can view a summary of the results of this study (in Portuguese) on the Imazon website.