When one mentions the Amazon, a large, forbidding jungle often pops into people’s minds, thanks in no small part to reports and popular imaginings of the Amazonian basin that date back at least to the first accounts of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the region. However, the Amazon is much more than a massive jungle or river basin; indeed, while its environmental importance to the world cannot be overstated, it is much more complicated than a simplistic treatment as some exotic foreign place allows. The Amazon’s impact spreads beyond environment or biology to affect economics, business, politics, and society itself. To wit, I give you these four stories from just the past week:
- “Brazilian leader Rousseff’s pardon for illegal deforesters condemned”
- “Nearly 100 bird species face increased risk of extinction in the Amazon”
- “Greenpeace accuses world’s largest meatpacker, Brazil’s JBS, of not protecting Amazon forest”
- “Amazon deforestation at record low, data shows”
Clearly, this is quite a variety of stories here, ranging from national politics transnational economics, from biology to environmental engineering . At the same time, the ways in which these stories are phrased can lead to some confusion, particularly with regards to the last headline, which by the very way it’s structured seems to provide some positive news when compared to the first three stories. Taken together, it’s easy to see how people can find it difficult to understand the complexities of the Amazon. After all, based on the stories above, people who have illegally deforested have been pardoned (thus suggesting that those who work to destroy the forest will not be punished as severely as the law threatens); hundreds of species of birds are increasingly facing a risk of extinction, something that would absolutely affect biodiversity in the region; major corporations are indirectly contributing to deforestation; and yet, deforestation rates have reached a “record low”? That is a confusing picture indeed.
But that’s the problem with reports on deforestation in the Amazon reaching “record lows”; the important part is not that the rates are low, but that deforestation is still going on at rates that damage the ecosystems and pose very real environmental problems for humans the world over in the years and decades to come. Yet just the tone of the headline conveys some small sense of hope (perhaps false, perhaps not), creating no small amount of dissonance between the tone of the first three headlines and the fourth.
Still, if one wants to understand just how complicated the Amazon is and how little we still understand about its past, present, and future, one need not look much further than not look much further than those headlines to understand just how complex the Amazonian basin is and just how much it affects not only biodiversity, but business, politics, culture, and societies in South America and beyond.