Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 26: Biosphere, history and conjuncture in the analysis of the Amazon problem
’ Jose August0 Padua INTRODUCTION When the Europeans first arrived in what is now known as Brazil, in the sixteenth century, they discovered two major tropical forest complexes: the Atlantic Forest, originally measuring some 1 090 000 square kilometres, and the Amazon Forest, which at that time encompassed some 4 275 000 square kilometres in Brazil alone (the whole South American Amazon Forest comprised almost 7 000 000 square kilometres).2 The different fate of these two forest complexes until three decades ago reveals a lot about Brazilian environmental history. Colonial economic activities, particularly export-oriented single crops, livestock and gold and diamond mining, were concentrated along the seaboard, the domain of the Atlantic Forest. Even after Brazil gained political independence, in 1822, the Brazilian economy and population continued to concentrate along the coast. New economic activities such as coffee plantations and timber production, and later iron smelting and pulp production, were responsible for further losses of Atlantic Forest during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The result is that 91 per cent of its original area has now been de~troyed.~ The Amazon Forest was left in a very different situation until quite recently. Until some 25 years ago, only about 1 per cent of the original forest had been destroyed. This phenomenon’s historical causes are complex and include many elements that cannot be discussed within the limits of a single chapter. However, a few specific points are in order. As a reserve of tropical forest products per se, the Amazon...
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