Things That Matter

Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is largely responsible for Amazon deforestation reaching an 11-year high. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) determined deforestation reached 3,769 square miles, an increase of 29.5 percent over the course of a year. 

According to Al Jazeera, that’s the worst its been since 2008. Bolsonaro has been accused of weakening IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency in favor of further monetizing the Amazon region. The president’s rhetoric has allowed illegal felling of the forest to thrive without impunity by nefarious loggers, miners, and farmers. 

Activists hold Bolsonaro singularly responsible for deforestation.

“The Bolsonaro government is responsible for every inch of forest destroyed. This government today is the worst enemy of the Amazon,” Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace, said in a statement. 

According to Brazil’s Climate Observatory, the recent increase is the fastest it has been seen since the ’90s and the third-fastest ever. 

“In a break with what occurred in previous years during which the rate rose, this time the government did not announce any credible measures to reverse the trend,” the group told the New York Times. 

Bolsonaro used executive power immediately upon taking office to ensure that Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture oversees the regulation and creation of indigenous reserves. The decision, many believed, gave the agricultural industry a significant expansion of power to determine where new indigenous reserves could be located. 

Within months, the INPE noted an increase in fires across the Amazon from January to August 2019, more than in the agency’s history of tracking the fires which began in 2013. 

“It is no surprise this is happening because the president has defended environmental crime and promoted impunity,” Adriana Ramos of the Socio-environmental Institute told The Guardian.

Bolsonaro lashed out against the head of INPE, Ricardo Galvao by firing him after Galvao called the president a coward for attempting to undermine the legitimacy of deforestation satellite imagery. Bolsonaro has repeatedly called the agency’s figures false. This year, following the G7 summit in France, Bolsonaro rejected $20 million in aid to fight the forest fires. 

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles finally acknowledged the issue.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has often deflected or dismissed evidence of the deforestation increase, but finally acknowledged it, according to Reuters

“[The level of deforestation] is far from what we wanted, but it’s also far from the three-digit numbers that had been reported,” Salles said. 

He blamed the deforestation on the illegal acts of miners, ranchers, and loggers rather than the president, adding that Brazil needs “a sustainable economy alternative for that region of the Amazon.” Salles did not present any course of action to address the issue. Experts are not hopeful that Bolsonaro will improve the situation. 

“Proposals like legalizing land-grabbing, mining and farming on indigenous lands, as well as reducing the licensing requirements for new infrastructure will show that the coming years will be even worse,” Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, said. “The question is how long Brazil’s trading partners will trust its promises of sustainability and compliance with the Paris agreement, as forests fall, indigenous leaders are killed and environmental laws are shattered.”

Brazil and the rest of the planet need the Amazon.

The Amazon is the largest rainforest and largest river basin on the planet. There are more species there than anywhere else on Earth. Roughly 20 percent of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years due to agriculture, illegal logging and urbanization. Brazil’s draconian policy that allows farmers to burn down the forest to clear land, and now under Bolsonaro to due so illegally without being fined has contributed to this. 

“Fires mark one of the last stages in deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, an environmental professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais told the Washington Post. “First, the expensive wood is removed. Then, the bush is left to dry. Finally, fires are set to clear the land before grass can be planted for pasture.”

However, scientists note that whether you are an indigenous person displaced by the fires or in an entirely different country, this issue affects you directly. 

“Reforestation is essentially a way of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The existing forest is absorbing some carbon dioxide already,” Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, a tropical and conservation biologist told National Geographic. “In terms of the global carbon cycle, tropical forests have a carbon sink roughly equal to half of what is in the atmosphere. About half of that is in the Amazon. This means to lose the Amazon would dramatically increase climate change.” 

Dr. Lovejoy notes that all hope is not lost if the nine Amazon nations take a proactive approach the Amazon can be restored to 90 percent of what it was. Bolsanaro’s critics are not as hopeful.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com