Pipeline will devastate landscape

Fragmenting a rain forest with roads can destroy 30 miles on either side of them.

So much for the “Save the Rain Forest” campaigns. Led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the presidents of Brazil and Argentina are buying into his plan to build a 10,000 kilometer natural gas pipeline from Caracas, Venezuela, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with links to Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay ” and coursing through the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rain forest.

Theoretically, such a pipeline could be built with minimal impact to the environment by flying in supplies, going around important or especially fragile areas and other similar precautions. But the cost for such care certainly will not be in the budget for the countries searching for a quick fix to the so-called “Washington consensus,” the free-market polices that are the United States’ answer to South America’s economic problems.

Building a pipeline across a continent covered in dense rainforest will require an immense amount of new infrastructure, the most harmful of which will be new roads. Fragmenting a rain forest with vehicle-friendly roads can destroy the forest for 30 miles on either side of the road within years. They also pave the way for farmers, ranchers, miners and loggers who have used up the land they already stripped from the dwindling rain forest to encroach on more of the fragile ecosystem. The project also will pollute waterways that supply the flora and fauna of the rain forest.

In reality, Chavez is not trying to reduce dependence on the United States, but rather increase dependence on Venezuela. The natural gas he wants to pipe through the Amazon is from his home country and Bolivia ” the whole idea is self-serving. Brazil and Argentina also have their own expansive natural gas fields; economically, it does not seem to make sense to import gas from Venezuela at a huge economic and environmental cost. Chavez has estimated the project’s cost to be $20 billion, paid for by the countries connected to it.

Environmentally, the pipeline makes little sense. But if the leaders of the countries involved are determined, they must be encouraged to do it with as little destruction to the rain forest as possible, no matter what the economic cost.