Isherwood column: Amazon burning
By Justin Isherwood
Amazon burning was the headline around the world, the tragedy of our planet’s unreconciled resources. A scientific problem as it is a moral one.
The role of the Amazon in planetary function is fairly secure in science. This “function” most obvious in its biological role, where the sheer diversity of Amazonia continues to amaze. The Amazon biosphere contains 50 percent of the world’s biome, where a new species is discovered every 2.5 days.
Nowhere else on the planet is the bio-pharm more active and of more potential. Some 7000 compounds of Western medicine are derived, or originated in these tropics. In 1985, its retail value was put at 43 billion. Treatments from cortisone to cancer to birth control pills have been sourced or their chemistry discovered in the Amazon.
Beyond pharma is the popularized function of Amazon as the so-called lungs of the planet, estimate is this forest generates 20 percent of the oxygen content of the atmosphere. The Amazon is also the planet’s premier carbon sink, and a key ingredient to the Earth’s water vapor cycle.
The Amazon is a resource we assumed was everlasting because its function so matters, so appreciated that it could not possibly be threatened. An appreciation that has not been verified by political or economic realities with an ability to intervene, what we know as Amazon burning.
From the economic perspective, the stewardship of resources of world consequence too often falls on individual nations to protect and do “the right thing.” That right thing so obvious to most of us. World agriculture is often confronted with “doing the right thing,” that right thing often coming at a personal cost and productive efficiency. Too often there is no compensation for doing “the right thing.”
The autumn meeting of the G-7 in Paris with a quick resolution passed the hat to gain 20 million dollars for Amazon fire suppression, a bribe to intercede on Brazil’s farm economy hoping to expand soybean acreage to fill the market window opened by President Trump’s tariffs. This forest-to-field transfer that science believes is tipping the scale of the Amazon’s forest function. To the jeopardy of the Western Hemisphere including the Corn Belt whose lush summer humidity is critical to the throw weight of American corn and soy.
The real question the G-7 ignored is of the standing debt for world function and economy relative to the Amazon. What do we owe those countries of the greater Amazon; Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana. How much is this2.7 billion square mile forest spread across its host nations worth … to every automobile, every ton of coal, every airline ticket?
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro beneath his indignant bluster had a point, an ethical point the G-7, Wall Street, Fleet Street and China’s Yiwuneed to address. The fair market value of the Amazon’s planetary function. With Climate Change, woodlands everywhere now have an economic impact and value that has nothing to do with board-foot productivity. The same goes for Iowa prairies and South Dakota potholes.
Never before in planetary and human history has the role of the forest, the prairie, the bog been more starkly evident, the carboniferous sources resources for planetary health. President Bolsonaro makes the same objective point that biologists and naturalists have made for most of the century, that natural systems and their ecological value needs to be accounted for by modern economies. What is the net worth of three football fields burning per minute? What is their real world value compared to a bushel of soybeans?
The critical need is to bring the Amazon to the world’s trading floors, to fairly value planetary resources against cheap commodity prices often chasing their own surplus. Needed is a Wall Street of the Woods. A Wall Street of Wetlands and Savannahs. A Wall Street to address resource role and value against market principles that don’t compute the whole earth balance sheet; the atmosphere, the rain cycle, carbon sequester, bio-pharma, the species.
In addition to a carbon tax what commerce needs is an Amazon tax to fairly fund Amazonia. A tax on every production cycle, every gadget, and microchip we owe to the place called Amazing.
Please pardon my liberty with the source of the Amazon’s name. In fact it was Francisco de Orellana who coined Amazon following a battle with a local tribe (the Tapuyas) as included both male and female warriors. Ever since the place known as Amazon.