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Inside the effort to rehabilitate Brazil's forests
03:13 - Source: CNN
Itu, Sao Paulo State, Brazil CNN  — 

The drive through Sao Paulo state in Brazil is decidedly unremarkable, blocks and blocks of high-rise buildings give way to commuter highways and eventually to gentle rolling hills. It is hardly the scene where one would expect to find the climate’s salvation.

And yet as Luis Guedes Pinto climbed his sky-high perch above a reclaimed swath of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, he explained you don’t have to go to the Arctic or even the Amazon to learn how to nurse Earth’s forests back to health.

“This project doesn’t change a big landscape, but it shows it’s possible to bring back life, to bring back water, to bring back biodiversity, to the center of the state of Sao Paulo,” said Pinto, the CEO at SOS Mata Atlântica, as he pointed down to two square miles of forest restoration.

Pinto’s organization is a non-profit devoted to rehabilitating the swath of forest on Brazil’s Atlantic coast. The forest itself is home to more than 145 million Brazilians, and — just as the Amazon rainforest has been ravaged by deforestation in the past several years — around three-quarters of it has already been wiped out by urban and infrastructure development and aggressive agribusiness practices.

“We need to plant and replant, but we cannot lose another acre,” Pinto said as he guided CNN through a nursery with more than 50 species of carefully cultivated trees and plants in what was once degraded, drought-prone pasture. “A forest we replant is not going to be the same as a forest we cut down. Some of the forests we’re losing have trees in them that are hundreds of years old.”

These are the seedlings of a forest’s revival. In just 15 years, it has become a thriving eco-lab with a healthy water table, trees, plants and animals. It is a completely different landscape to the pasture land on its borders, where drought-stricken grass overtakes acres of what was previously forest.