Football fields of trees

For years, if not decades, we have been confronted by distressing statistics about the clearing of rainforest in the Amazon basin in Brazil. It is an emotive topic and one that makes any rational person pause for thought.

More often than not, the rate of clearing has been expressed in terms of areas the size of football fields and this proved to be a very effective analogy.

Frankly, most football fields are quite small and nothing like the image immediately conjured-up by the term which more often than not gets us thinking about stadiums with grandstands and car park areas and the like. This is not to say the situation is any less concerning but clever terminology can convey impressions that are somewhat misleading.

Rest assured, suggesting the damage to our planet is not serious is NOT the point of this piece. It was triggered by new data indicating the rate of deforestation in the Amazon is at its lowest level for a quarter of a century.

Even so – and this is scary – the volume of lush trees and understorey cleared in the period August 2011 till July 2012 was 4656 sq km. No matter how you picture football fields, that’s a bloody lot of them.

As if something good had happened, the Brazilian government contrasted the area above with the 6418 sq km cleared in the year previous. This was trumpeted as a 27 per cent reduction as if something good had happened.

For an even more gut-wrenching scenario, the Brazilians say the rate of destruction is now the lowest it has been since they started measuring it in 1988

And the good news? Well, the government reckons it’s getting close to its target of reducing deforestation by 2020 to just 20 per cent of the level prevailing in 1990.

Whew! For a moment there I thought we had a problem.

There is just a mental disconnect with the reality of somewhere between half a million and a million sq kms of rainforest no longer cleaning our air or providing living space for myriad creatures who take better care of our planet than we do.

I fully recognise the futility of just saying: this is not good enough – but words fail me otherwise.