The Amazon rainforest has never been in greater danger. According to data released on July 3 by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the rate of deforestation recorded in June was the highest since 2016, showing a 60% rise over the same period last year: 762.3 square kilometers have been deforested, compared to 488 square kilometers in June 2018—the equivalent of 106,000 soccer fields.
Furthermore, during the first six months of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, 2,273 square km of forest have been lost due to fires and illegal logging, equivalent to one and a half times the area of the city of São Paulo. While the INPE data will have to wait until later this year to be definitively confirmed by the more accurate PRODES government satellite program, there is no doubt that it indicates a clear upward trend.
It could hardly be otherwise, considering some of the steps Bolsonaro’s government has taken so far, including the dismantling of the Department of Forests and Fighting Deforestation, the proposal to give a dozen national parks over to private initiative, and the launch of a so-called “Parliamentary front in defense of the Amazon,” which is in reality committed to promoting mining activities in the region under the guise of preventing illegal resource extraction.
It’s also not surprising that the government didn’t care about the deforestation data, instead proceeding to dissect it, striking a reassuring tone and playing down the numbers. Shortly before the data was published, Minister Augusto Heleno, head of the Office of Institutional Security, told the BBC that “the deforestation numbers are manipulated,” while Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina, known as the “muse of pesticides,” tried to reassure the world that “if there is a concern, Brazil will act, yes,” stressing, however, that one must avoid giving in to “hysteria” about the environment without having certain information.
There was no comment from Bolsonaro himself, who a few days ago, at the G20, denied that any deforestation was taking place, railing against what he called an “environmental psychosis.” It was a statement along the lines of those of his son Eduardo, who boasted not long ago that 61% of Brazilian territory “still has the same vegetation from the times of Adam and Eve,” compared to Europe’s measly 1%.
For its part, Europe has rejected the initiative promoted by 340 civil society organizations to “send a clear signal” to the Bolsonaro government by freezing the trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, to insist on a course change on the environment (and social issues). Instead, Europe preferred to sign the treaty immediately, in spite of the issue of the fight against deforestation.
However, Bolsonaro’s goal for the Amazon is not a mystery to anyone: he wants to transform protected areas and indigenous lands into pastures for cattle ranching, large-scale soy farms and mines. He’d like to do all that together with his friend Trump, to whom, unsurprisingly, he has proposed a plan to exploit the region “in a joint manner,” so as to prevent the international community, with the Church now on the front lines, from “taking away” Brazil’s forest. “The foreign press says that I want to destroy the Amazon,” said the Brazilian president, “but what I actually want is for it to remain ours.”
Scientists are warning that if the rate of deforestation passes the critical threshold of 25%—currently at 17% overall, up to 20% in the Brazilian part—the Amazon will be doomed to turn into a sad savannah, with a few patches of forest here and there. This would have unimaginable consequences, not only for Brazil but for the entire planet.
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