The risk that the Amazon region will rapidly turn into a savannah is becoming more and more real. The latest study by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research, based on data collected by the Prodes satellite monitoring program and released on Nov. 18, confirms how serious the situation is: between August 2018 and July 2019, as a result of deforestation and fires, about 10,000 square kilometers of forest were destroyed, 29.5% more than during the previous year.
While this is already the highest rate of deforestation recorded since 2008, with a loss of forest area equivalent to 1.4 million soccer fields, one can say with absolute certainty that it is destined to worsen: in August of this year, the deforestation index was 222% higher than during the same month of 2018, and it was 96% higher in September.
In particular, the situation in the indigenous areas is extremely serious. Between Aug. 1, 2018, and June 31, 2019, deforestation in these areas increased by 65% compared to the previous period, going from 260 to 429.9 square kilometers. The Bolsonaro government is primarily responsible for the destruction, as a result of its deadly and systematic attacks on environmental protection policies in favor of the lobbies of farmers and breeders, the mining companies and the timber industry, and nothing so far points to a course reversal for the future.
Quite the opposite, in fact: for the government, the “enemies” to be fought are actually the defenders of the environment. This can be seen clearly in the case of the four young volunteers from a firefighting brigade arrested on Tuesday in Santarém, in the state of Pará, on highly dubious charges of having set a forest fire in an area called Alter do Chao, in an alleged conspiracy to receive international funding through the Saúde and Alegria NGO (whose headquarters have been searched by men armed with machine guns as a result).
One of the NGOs supposedly involved in this conspiracy is part of a major reforestation project in the areas destroyed by the fires. This is all taking place against the backdrop of the Santarém region, which has been particularly affected by the social and environmental conflict linked to deforestation and the interests of gold prospectors, mining companies, soybean growers and timber traders.
As for the “evidence” presented by the prosecution to substantiate the existence of the conspiracy, it consists of nothing more than videos of the fire made by the accused while they were fighting it, in addition to donations received by WWF Brasil through a contract worth 70,000 reais (equal to around €16,000), which the prosecution alleges are connected to a donation of $500,000 to WWF from the actor Leonardo di Caprio.
While the government is busy alleging convoluted conspiracies by the environmentalists, the dramatic situation has been further confirmed by a NASA study, which showed that the Amazonian atmosphere has become less and less humid over the last 20 years, due to the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as the fires set in the forests.
Deforestation reduces plant cover and causes a drop in plant perspiration. This, by making the atmosphere drier, leads the soil to dry up and increases the risk of larger and more devastating fires. According to NASA scientists, this loss of humidity, if it continues, could threaten the very existence of the rainforest, upsetting the hydrological cycle that ensures its survival.
As a result of the deadly vicious circle triggered by deforestation, the rainforest is approaching the point of no return, beyond which the entire ecosystem could collapse. As explained by the renowned Brazilian climatologist Carlos Nobre, whom Pope Francis invited to the Synod on the Amazon, the dry season has already become three to four weeks longer over a wide area of two million square kilometers to the south and east.
If the dry season grows to more than four months (compared to the current average of three months), the forest will turn into a tropical savannah in 15-30 years, if we take into account “the current increasing rate of deforestation, combined with the continued advancement of global warming and the greater vulnerability of the Amazon region to fires.”