Forest clearing on Amazonia's expanding frontiers is not about desperate poor people clearing the forest to eat. It is about land sharks fighting it out over the best parts and forcing the little fish to pick over the remains. In the wake of forest clearing, ranchers, agribusiness, and small farmers become established, more forest is cleared every year -- and the frontier moves on.
A group of scientists at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, the environmental research group IPAM, and the Woods Hole Research Center have built a satellite-data-driven model of future deforestation scenarios for the Amazon, based on how much has already been cleared and the well-documented historical relationship between building and paving roads and forest clearance. Their conservative, business-as-usual estimate: 40 percent of the existing forest cover of the Amazon (the whole basin, not just the Brazilian part) will be gone by 2050. Worse, no one knows if there is a tipping point, beyond which the ecosystem unravels irreversibly—or where it might be if there is one.