The Amazon lost more forest last year than at any time since 2008. An area 12 times larger than New York City, the five boroughs, was lost in one year due to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, according to the Institute. National Space Research of Brazil.
That's the fastest rate of deforestation in more than a decade, and it provides the clearest indication to date that the Amazon is being devastated under the leadership of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The data, based on satellite imagery, reveals that around 3,750 square miles were deforested between August 2018 and July this year, mainly due to illegal logging and forest burning, an increase of 29.5% over the area lost in recent years. 12 months.
Bolsonaro has been criticized for implementing policies that have encouraged illegal deforestation in the Amazon. He scoffed at policies aimed at protecting the environment as an obstacle to economic growth in Brazil, advocating for industries such as mining and agriculture to gain more access to protected land.
It has weakened government agencies, especially the Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, known in Brazil as Ibama, which was charged with protecting the Amazon. Bolsonaro, critics say, has starved the organization of the resources it needs to do its job, and is effectively turning a blind eye to illegal deforestation.
"The number published today is a direct consequence of Bolsonaro's 'chainsaw' strategy, which consists of dismantling enforcement agencies, shelving deforestation control plans and empowering environmental criminals through his speeches" said the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of environmental defense organizations.
The government's environment minister told reporters Monday that illegal mining and logging were largely to blame, and said the government needed to do more to limit such activities. He did not offer a plan on how Brazil would do that.
It is the clearing of the land, mainly for cattle grazing, that caused the huge fires in the Amazon during the summer. The fires that burned through the forest, observed and measured with satellite imagery, were largely controlled.
But we were lucky. This year was not a drought year. Had they been, the fires could have burned much more widely.
"Deforestation was the root cause of the fires," said Matt Finer, a researcher with the Amazon Conservation Society who helped monitor the fires using satellite data. “We took a break this year, because it wasn't a drought year, but if this happens again and it's a drought year, we could suddenly get this double effect of the surrounding forest actually lighting up and turning into that raging fire. within the Amazon rainforest, ”he explained in a note with Vice News.
The Amazon is a great buffer against global warming. It stores about 90 billion tons of carbon in its plant life. The United States emitted 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon in 2017. When the Amazon burns, it releases the carbon stored in its forests into the atmosphere.
If the fugitive flames overtake the Amazon, it could push the ecosystem past a tipping point from which it will not be able to recover. Deforestation disrupts the region's rainfall patterns, and without rain, a rainforest is not a rainforest. It could become a savanna.
Experts say we are not far from that point. "It's close," Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist and professor of biology at Yale University, told the New York Times. "It's very close," he insisted.