TO THE BRAZILIAN EMBASSY IN
The note entitled “Plans for the Sustainable Development of the Amazon” issued by the Brazilian Embassy in London (2001) accuses our study (Laurance et al., 2001) of “including incorrect and misleading information about ‘Avança Brasil’”, which the note claims to “clarify”. Unfortunately, it is not our study that is misleading.
Contrary to the Embassy’s implication, our scenarios
are not based on projections of population growth. Rather, they are based on the way
deforestation and other forms of disturbance spread out when access is provided
by infrastructure construction. There is
no evidence that the “environmentally-sensitive technology” emphasized by the
Embassy has altered how this process takes place. It is worth noting, however, that the large
number of young people the population assures rapid growth over the 20-year
period of our scenarios regardless of the decline in birth rates mentioned by
the Embassy. It is also relevant that
the highway paving financed by Avança Brasil will facilitate migration to
The assumptions used in our studies for
infrastructure types such as gas pipelines, transmission lines railways and
industrial waterways are not simply that they will be the same as “highways”,
but rather that they will be similar to unpaved roads. Paving of highways results in substantially
greater deforestation. The greatest
worry regarding this “other” infrastructure is the effect of the gas pipelines
planned in the heart of the undisturbed block of forest in western
The Embassy statement suggests that
the Avança Brasil program of infrastructure construction in
The existence of environmental
impact studies does not mean that damaging projects would not be undertaken.
The Embassy’s claim that “if any project involves environmental damage, it must
be reformulated or dropped” does not fit with experience. One of the problems is that
Another example is the Araguaia-Tocantins Waterway, also a top priority under Avança Brasil. In this case, when statements regarding heavy impacts on indigenous populations along the route were included in the report, the outcome was to alter the report rather than to drop the project (Carvalho, 1999). More common than scandals such as this is the more subtle effect of the licensing system requiring only that of each step in the process be completed (report submission, public hearing, etc.), with little regard, in practice, to the content of the information. In effect, the consultants writing the reports and the witnesses at the hearings can say whatever they like, pointing out major impacts, and the project approval process simply moves ahead based on the fact that the reports have been duly submitted and the population has been “consulted” (Eve et al., 2000; Fearnside and Barbosa, 1996).
The Embassy statement emphasizes the existence of
federal and state environmental agencies, police, etc., giving the impression
that the process of land occupation and deforestation is orderly and controlled
The existence of PROBEM and other non-destructive
projects under the aegis of Avança Brasil does not change the effect of the
infrastructure components that were the subject of our paper. This infrastructure is massive, including
substantial increases in the impact of the road network. The Embassy’s claim of “no new highways”
gives the misleading impression that the highway network funded through Avança
Brasil would not cause deforestation.
Unfortunately, the plan to pave 7,500 km of highways greatly increases the
accessibility of remote areas of
Much of the infrastructure is justified by export of soybeans, a crop with minimal social benefits (Fearnside, 2001). Constructing a massive infrastructure network to support soybean growing is difficult to imagine as coming under the Embassy’s title of “Plans for the Sustainable Development of the Amazon”.
Brazilian Embassy in
Carvalho, G., A.C. Barros, P. Moutinho and D. Nepstad.
2001. Sensitive development could protect
Carvalho, R. 1999. A Amazônia rumo ao “ciclo da soja.” Amazônia Papers No. 2, Programa Amazônia, Amigos da Terra, São Paulo, Brazil. 8 pp. (available from http://www.amazonia.org.br).
Eve, E., F.A.
Arguelles and P.M. Fearnside. 2000. How well does
P.M. 2001. Soybean cultivation as a threat
to the environment in
Fearnside, P.M. and R.I. Barbosa. 1996. The Cotingo Dam as a test of
Laurance, W.F., M.A. Cochrane, S. Bergen, P.M. Fearnside, P. Delamônica, C. Barber, S. D’Angelo & T. Fernandes. 2001. The Future of the Brazilian Amazon. Science 291: 438-439.
Nepstad, D., J.P. Capobianco, A.C. Barros, G. Carvalho, P. Moutinho, U. Lopes and P. Lefebvre. 2000. Avança Brasil: Os Custos Ambientais para Amazônia. Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), Belém, Brazil. 24 pp. (available at http://www.ipam.org.br/avanca/politicas.htm).
Philip M. Fearnside
Department of Ecology
National Institute for Research
in the Amazon (INPA)
Av. André Araújo, 2936
69011-970 Manaus, Amazonas
William F. Laurance
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Apartado 2072, Balboa
and INPA, C.P. 478