Between August 2019 and July 2020 the Brazilian Amazon experienced a 12-year high in deforestation rates, according to the nation’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). During that one-year time period, 6,890 square miles of forest were completely destroyed, along with the thousands of wildlife habitats within them.
The destruction that occurred within this year is 9.5% greater than the previous year-long period, and is the highest level of destruction the Amazon has endured since 2008, according to the INPE, who recently spoke at a news conference to discuss this major issue.
In general, deforestation rates have skyrocketed in Brazil since current far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office back in January 2019. Bolsonaro has highly encouraged the commercial development of the Amazon and has defunded numerous agencies that are responsible for preventing illegal logging, ranching, and mining within the rainforest.
Fires are often lit in the Amazon on purpose to clear vegetation from parts of the forest to make room for these illegal ranches. The surrounding forest area is typically already destroyed due to deforestation as well. Environmentalists have been outspoken about their disapproval of Bolsonaro and his policies that promote illegal logging and development in the Amazon.
Back in August Bolsonaro was called out for referring to official data and news reports regarding fires in the Amazon “a lie.” Back in 2019 the president was faced with a threat from 34 international investors who all threatened to divest from Brazilian companies unless Bolsonaro made a genuine effort to slow the destruction of the forest as well as the illegal fires and ranching.
While his government did take steps to curb that destruction by periodically banning fires and allocating military personnel to control them, the new data shows the opposite. NGO Greenpeace is an environmental group that’s been documenting the destruction of the Amazon throughout the past year.
NGO released photos from a flyover operation they completed in August. The images showed the southern portion of the forest located in Rondônia which included protected areas where commercial development and exploitation is prohibited, however, the images clearly showed the areas engulfed in flames and smoke.
Back in September current president-elect Joe Biden even brought up the deforestation issue in the Amazon during a debate, claiming that the “rainforests in Brazil are being torn down but [he would] make sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion to say ‘here’s $20 billion, stop tearing down the forest and if you don’t, you are going to have significant economic consequences.’”
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and is now an integral player in the fight against global climate change. When the rainforest is healthy and thriving, it’s able to pull billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thus defend the planet from further climate destruction.
It’s also a biodiversity hotspot and home to numerous species, and according to NGO South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The fires have now consumed over 28% of the area, meaning the area that is typically responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and maintaining a healthy ecosystem for the forest is struggling for survival now.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.