According to a report from Reuters, legislators for Brazil's Green Party have quit the government in protest of its failure to slow deforestation in the Amazon. The party said the recent announcement that Amazon deforestation topped 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) in 2004 was the final straw after what it called a string of disastrous environmental policies by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
"This government represents one of the biggest-ever reversals for Brazilian environmental policy," said Jovino Candido, one of seven Green Party members in the lower House of Deputies who withdrew support from the ruling coalition in Congress. The Green Party has only a tiny fraction of the 513 deputies in the lower house, but its departure marked another political setback for Lula as he tries to rebuild support after a string of defeats.
Lula entered office in 2003 on high hopes he would control use of threatened Amazon areas and balance needs for environmental protection with economic growth. After 28 months in office environmentalists say he has done more to promote dams, roads and farming in the Amazon than halt destruction of the world's largest rainforest. Environmentalists have applauded Lula's efforts to create vast Amazon reserves to promote sustainable use of timber and land resources but they have criticized his inability to enforce environmental laws protecting the vast jungle. Illegal loggers, land speculators and farmers deforested an area of rainforest larger than the US state of New Jersey between 2003 and 2004. Brazil's soy and beef farmers often move into deforested areas, driven by high global prices and booming demand for their exports.
Nearly half the total deforestation last year took place in Mato Grosso state, where rain forests are being converted into large soy plantations. Blairo Maggi, the governor of the state, is world's single largest soy producer. Soy has become Brazil's biggest farm export -- equal to about $10 billion in 2004 -- thanks to a booming market fueled by high demand from China and, as the result of a new variety of soybean developed by Brazilian scientists to flourish rainforest climate, the country is on the verge of supplanting the United States as the world's leading exporter of soybeans. Each year Brazil is opening up an area of cropland the size of Maryland.
Scientists are concerned that widespread deforestation in the Amazon could have global consequences through species extinction and climate change. The Amazon forest plays a key role in the global environment, supplying a portion of the world's oxygen and locking up massive amounts of carbon. As forest is cut, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere contributing to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Further, scientists have found that the reduction of forest cover has affected local weather patterns. Less rain tends to fall in deforested areas and scientists fear that continued forest clearing could turn much of the region into savanna. A recent study in Science warned that a prolonged drought in the Amazon could lead to a massive die-off in the world's largest rainforest.
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