Only Zero Deforestation Can Save Brazil’s Rainforest

Amazon deforestation High-tech smuggling operations may not be what you'd normally associate with the ongoing clearance of the Amazon rainforest, but logging companies intent on plundering it for timber have been using hackers to break into the Brazilian government's sophisticated tracking system and fiddle the records.

To monitor the amount of timber leaving the Amazon state of Pará, the Brazilian environment ministry did away with paper dockets and two years ago introduced an online system. Companies logging the rainforest for timber or charcoal production are only allowed to fell a certain amount of timber every year and this is controlled by the use of transport permits issued by the state government's computer system.

To be exported from Pará, a state in northern Brazil, for example, each shipment of timber requires one of these transport permits, and the volume of timber in each shipment is deducted from the total amount allowed under the company's forest management plan. Once that amount is reduced to zero, no more transport permits are issued so there's no profit in felling more trees.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen but Brazil's public prosecutor just released details of how hackers employed by 107 logging and charcoal companies have compromised the system, falsifying the online records to increase the timber transport allocations for certain areas of the forest.

In the past, Brazil has been called the world's hacking capital and there is a history of criminal gangs targeting from banks and engaging in large-scale online fraud.

The result is that nearly 1.7 million cubic meters of illegal timber have been smuggled out of the Amazon, enough to fill 780 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The sums of money involved are also huge, and the public prosecutor is suing the companies responsible for 2 billion reais (£558 million or US$ 833 million).

According to federal prosecutor Daniel Avelino, many of these companies have a track record of illegal practices: "Almost half of the companies involved in this scam have other lawsuits pending for environmental crimes or the use of slave labour, amongst other things."

Police started investigating the suspect hackers in April 2007, swooping in a couple of months later to arrest 30 ring leaders. One is still in jail – the intermediary who brought the hackers and the loggers together – and in total, 202 people are facing prosecution.

André Muggiati, a campaigner in Greenpeace's Amazon office in Manaus, revealed that they flagged up potential security holes in the past. "We've pointed out before that this method of controlling the transport of timber was subject to fraud. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same computer system is also used in two other Brazilian states."

"By hacking into the permit system, these companies have made their timber shipments appear legal and compliant with the forest management plans. But in reality, they're trading illegal timber which is making the problem of deforestation worse, and a lack of control and policing in the areas they're logging means they think they can get away with it."

If this scandal weren't bad enough, it comes as the Brazilian national congress prepares to vote on a change to the country's forest code which could massively increase the amount of legal logging that will be allowed.

At the moment, land owners in the Amazon are able to clear trees from 20% of their property but if the proposed changes are adopted, it will raise that to 50%. Given the contentious nature of land ownership in the region, no one knows exactly the damage this will cause but as deforestation rates are once again on the increase, it's certain to push them up even further.

This scandal of loggers and hackers just demonstrates that the Brazilian government is failing to protect the Amazon forest from logging companies determined to break the law.

If the rainforest is to have any long-term future, the only answer is to adopt a zero deforestation plan, like the one Greenpeace and other campaign groups think is needed, setting ambitious targets to bring deforestation under control. Otherwise illegal logging and corporate fraud such this will continue to be a massive problem.




  • Show Comments (5)

  • dnbaiacu

    “The Day The Earth Stood Still….”
    Mediocre movie with a lot of thought provoking truth in it.

    [bÀ‚ But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time for the dead to be judged, and to give [their] reward to your slaves the prophets and to the holy ones and to those fearing your name, the small and the great, and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.À¢€Â Revelation 11:18][/b]

    The purpose is for humans to care for the earth.. Be its custodians.

    [b]To the Lord belong the earth and that which fills it,
    The productive land and those dwelling in it. Psalms 24:1[/b]

    [b]As regards the heavens, to the Lord the heavens belong,
    But the earth he has given to the sons of men. Psalms 115:16[/b]
    Truth is so simple

  • Gringo

    70 % of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal. And although scientists and other stakeholders may quibble about the methodology in measuring deforestation, that 70% figure is generally accepted by all, including esteemed members in the PalÀƒ¡cio do Planalto. Actually, that 70% figure haunts Lula pretty much wherever he goes, especially in Europe.

    This TPF (Transportes de Produto Florestal) hacking scam that the federal police discovered highlights two important points being missed by bloggers here, 1.) It shows how elaborate and technically sophisticated those who illegally fell and transport woods operate, and 2.) It also shows how well the Feds can do in investigating and cracking down when they choose to do so.

    As to changing the forest code, I suspect that Lula is hoping that by giving property owners an additional 30% of their lands to clear, then that nasty stat of À¢€œ70% of deforestation in the Amazon is illegalÀ¢€Â will drop considerably. Actual destruction will continue at the same rate and pace, only more of it will be considered À¢€œlegalÀ¢€Â. LulaÀ¢€™s 3 card environmental monte. He’s a slick guy, no question as to how he’s achieving that 80% approval ratings these days.

  • Ric

    Now There’s an Idea
    Sounds reasonable, George. There are two ways that your plan can be accomplished. The first is to convince a majority of the world’s population that you are right and have them pressure their legislatures to pass laws forcing the people to comply, then making sure that the means are there to enforce.

    Or you could convince all the peoples of the world to dismantle national barriers, adopt a one world government, and that such government would carry out your plan.

    I don’t know if either is possible since there exist many experts who think Malthus was wrong.

    Good luck, though. One last thought, if some teens inadvertantly produced a baby, what would be the punishment in your plan? Wouldn’t you sort of have to have the authority of say, a totalitarian, ruthless government like that of China, in order to force compliance thru fear?

  • George

    Humans are greedy. They crave power. the only answer is to reduce human population through a global mandate that each human only have 2 children, and the first not until age 29. This will reduce the world population b 50% in 100-200 years.
    Any other attempts at solving environmental problems is pure mental masturbation

  • Ric

    Oh Yes Indeed
    Most of the lumber extracted is for use inside Brazil. I don’t know on whose authority Greenpeace can tell Brazilians that they are prohibited from cutting down trees to build houses for Brazilians. Very little wood goes into the average Brazilian house anyway, the walls are brick but the rafters, beams, doors, windows and sashes are usually wooden.

    If the loggers are corrupt, so are the government entities who are supposed to be watching them and so are the NGOs.

    Generation of vipers.

    In the tribes, the CaÀƒ§ique and his men typically find a tree that they know is dying anyway, cut it down manually and split it into boards and dimension lumber. Love to see an unfettered Greenpeace going into a tribe and trying to talk them out of it.

    Because that’s what zero deforestation would mean, right?


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