Across the world, complex social and market forces are driving the conversion of vast swaths of rain forests into pastureland, plantations, and cropland. Rain forests are disappearing in Indonesia and Madagascar and are increasingly threatened in Africa’s Congo basin. But the most extreme deforestation has taken place in Brazil. Since 1988, Brazilians have cleared more than 153,000 square miles of Amazonian rain forest, an area larger than Germany. With the resulting increase in arable land, Brazil has helped feed the growing global demand for commodities, such as soybeans and beef.
Published in the March/April 2013 edition of Foreign Affairs.
I was sceptical when I went to see Al Gore deliver his first PowerPoint presentation on global warming in 2005. I had heard good things, but couldn’t shake this image of Gore as a smart but stone-faced US politician who fumbled his words and had to be told to dress in earth tones. Instead, what I encountered at Harvard University was a dynamic speaker who had transformed a complex topic into an accessible and generally fair presentation, which he delivered with passion and a healthy dose of humour. If this Gore had run for president, I thought, he could have changed history. Six years later, on 14 September, I tuned in to Gore’s spectacularly ambitious attempt at a sequel with a similar mixture of curiosity and trepidation, only this time my fears were confirmed.
Published in the November 2011 edition of Nature Climate Change.