New data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has revealed a terrifying reality for the country’s Amazon rainforest. According to statistics generated by the Brazil’s space agency, the rate of deforestation within the Amazon has reached its highest level in over a decade.

The data also revealed that nearly 10,000 square kilometres of forest has been lost between August 2018 and July 2019, up by 30% compared to the previous year. Many have linked the soaring levels of deforestation to the change in government, particularly with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. President Bolsonaro was elected into office last year, after heavily campaigning for the exploitation of the rainforest in favour of boosting the Brazilian economy.

While this new data begs instant action, President Bolsonaro has a track record when it comes to dismissing important environmental threats. Earlier this year, the INPE reported that deforestation in the Amazon was 88% higher in the month of June than the same month in 2018. Bolsanaro responded by firing the head of INPE, Ricardo Galvão, for spreading ‘lies’ passed as scientific data.

Additionally, Bolsonaro has significantly rolled back vital environmental agencies including two departments within the Ministry of Environment. A press release distributed by the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian environmental organisations, stated that the high rates of deforestation were a “direct result of the strategy implemented by Bolsonaro to dismantle the Ministry of Environment.”

Brazil’s Environment in 2019

This year has delivered a great blow to Brazil’s natural environment. Other than the high level of deforestation, the country has been overwhelmed with wildfires incited by human activity.

Loggers and farmers are known to use the illegal ‘slash-and-burn’ technique to clear forest area for cattle ranching and farming. This, coupled with the start of the dry season, allowed wildfires to spread vastly and cause colossal damage to thousands of acres of land. The fires became so intense that the smoke managed to darken the city of Sao Paulo – despite being located nearly 2,000 miles from the Amazon.

Deforestation Negatively Impacts Indigenous Communities

Deforestation doesn’t just have an environmental impact; it also puts the Amazon’s indigenous people at risk. The lack of environmental regulations has allowed loggers and farmers to operate freely within the rainforest with no concern to the communities they’re infringing on.

Once again, this stems from Bolsonaro’s policies promoting agri-business over indigenous rights. Shortly after gaining power, Bolsanaro stripped an indigenous organisation of the authority to demarcate indigenous lands – most of which lies within the rainforest. The president has remained outspoken on using the rainforest as a tool to support economic growth and national development, which has since emboldened loggers and farmers to continue their harmful practices.

Amazon’s Global Importance

While the Amazon doesn’t produce 20% of the world’s oxygen – as many celebrities, politicians and world leaders have mistakenly pointed out – it still holds a vast global importance for reasons such as mitigating global warming and supporting biodiversity.

As the world’s largest rainforest and one of its most critical ecosystems, people across the globe rely on the Amazon for their food, water and medicines. Disrupting its natural processes can go on to impact both local and international communities in immeasurable ways.

The Amazon is also one of the most important lines of defence when it comes to climate change. The rainforest is responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing oxygen which stabilises the greenhouse effect significantly. Without it, experts believe that the impact of climate change would be much worse. 

Yet, politics and business threaten to destabilise the world’s most complex and refined rainforest. With Jair Bolsonaro only in the first year of his presidency, the future of the Amazon remains worrisome.

Aisha Mohamed