Oh crap. From an excellent article in the Boston Globe:

Along hundreds of miles of the north-south highway that bisects the Brazilian Amazon, the canopy of rain forests has been wiped out. Where the road is paved, loggers, ranchers, and commercial farmers have razed the landscape, removing valuable hardwoods and clearing fields for cattle and soybeans as far as the eye can see.

My father made a living as an excavator. I grew up watching him “raze landscapes” with his bulldozers. I recall the time he brought home a baby owl found in a tree he had knocked down. The first piece of equipment I learned to operate was the International TD20. It was the only dozer that had an automatic transmission and, therefore, the easiest thing for a fourteen-year-old to drive. But anyway …

Last week, the Brazilian environmental agency granted a provisional license for paving the road. When it is completed, the highway will connect the farms and ranches of southern Brazil to overseas markets via Santarém, a northern, deep-water Amazon River port that feeds into the Atlantic. Journeys that now take weeks on a 600-mile stretch of muddy, potholed track that is virtually impassable during the half-year rainy season will be cut to days or hours.

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The most cost-effective way to protect large tracts of ecosystems is to stop the building of roads. That is the whole idea behind the endangered roadless rule here in the States.

This road will be a disaster for some:

Peasants who harvest fruit and nuts from the forest complain that clearing by ranchers and soy-growers has depleted their food supply. Subsistence farmers say the pesticides used by commercial farmers are killing their chickens and pigs and poisoning river fish.

On the other hand, one poor farmer had this to say:

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“It would be great if they would pave it all the way south to open more opportunities for us poor people.”

… to be exploited by others as wage slaves on their corporate farms? I have yet to meet a wealthy small farmer.

Leaders of three communities of Qilombo people, descendants of former slaves, say they are under death threats from land speculators after launching a campaign to acquire formal titles to lands they have farmed for more than a century.

And finally from the South American environmental front:

“We’re on the front line here, trying to hold back destruction of the Amazon as soy growing moves up the highway,” Gomes said. “Land speculators are taking land from locals to sell to soy growers. The population is naive, and they get kicked off their land.”

If the Amazon did not exist, none of this would be happening and no one would be any the worse off. This is all about the human propensity to seek ever-higher status. The poor and the wealthy want the same thing, to be wealthier.