As leaders from 130 countries gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week for the “Rio+20” United Nations environmental summit, the host country is grappling with its own increasingly volatile struggles between economic growth, ecosystem conservation, and human rights protection.
From deforestation for soy and cattle plantations to violence against forest activists, to the scores of dams being built on the country’s rushing rivers, Brazil faces debate both internally and internationally about its future. The South American nation is home to one-third of the world’s remaining rainforests, including a majority of the Amazon rainforest. Its forests host an incredible biodiversity, with more than 56,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds, 695 amphibians, 578 mammals, and 651 reptiles.
Twenty years ago, at the first Earth Summit in Rio, protecting the Amazon was already on everyone’s minds. Canadian environmental activist John Hemming wrote in his book Tree of Rivers: “More heads of government attended this gathering than any previous event: It took place in the country that held the most tropical forests and rivers, and ironically it was in the 500th anniversary of Columbus. … I was at this huge, vibrant conference and experienced the resulting feeling of optimism.”
Now Brazil is on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse and its using up its natural resources faster than ever. …
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