Wanton deforestation in the Amazon is gathering steam

8 Juli 2019

The Amazon’s rainforests in Brazil are being cleared at an appalling rate with an area the size of a football pitch being lost to deforestation every minute, according to news reports.

Last month alone forest loss in the Amazon was 88.4% higher than during the same month last year, according to Brazil’s space agency. At present the world’s largest tropical rainforest still covers 920 square kilometers, but the high rate of deforestation means that Brazil’s remaining rainforests are under severe threat from increased fragmentation.

“In the first 11 months, deforestation already has reached 4,565 square km (1,762 square miles), a 15 percent increase over the same period in the previous year,” the Reuters news agency reports. “That is an area larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island.”

Environmentalists say the forest loss is primarily driven by an economic plan to create more pastures for cattle, one of Brazil’s primary exports, in the place of forests.

“[D]uring our visit we saw countless herds grazing on land that used to be rainforest,” explains David Shukman, science editor of BBC News. “Over the past decade, previous governments had managed to reduce the clearances with concerted action by federal agencies and a system of fines,” Shukman adds.

“But this approach is being overturned by [President Jair] Bolsonaro and his ministers who have criticised the penalties and overseen a dramatic fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes,” he says.

In other words, President Bolsonaro’s oft-stated aim to develop Brazil economically is coming, at least in part, at the costs of the country’s irreplaceable rainforests, which are among the most biodiverse areas left on Earth. In a statement, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has dismissed such charges by insisting that “We are adopting all measures to combat illegal deforestation.”

Critics of Bolsonaro’s administration aren’t buying that argument, however. “There’s a government attempt to show the data is wrong, to show the numbers don’t portray the reality,” an unnamed Brazilian official told the BBC World Service.

“In truth, [the rate of deforestation] can be even worse,” the official said, because many of the recently deforested areas haven’t yet shown up on satellite images. “People need to know what’s happening because we need allies to fight against invasions, to protect areas, and against deforestation.”

Troublingly, General Augusto Heleno Pereira, a top security adviser to President Bolsonaro, a former military man turned politician who is a controversial figure, dismissed the suggestion that Brazil was obligated to protect the Amazon’s rainforests because they were part of the entire planet’s collective natural heritage.

“I don’t accept this idea that the Amazon is world heritage, this is nonsense,” General Pereira said in an interview. “The Amazon is Brazilian, the heritage of Brazil and should be dealt with by Brazil for the benefit of Brazil.”

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