As things tend to go in the 24-hour news cycle, most people have already forgotten August's breaking news of the Amazon rainforest being on fire — but perhaps the following piece of news will help remind people that the Amazon is still suffering. According to new data, this year, deforestation rates in the Amazon reached the highest they've been in 11 years.
The Amazon provides more than 20 percent of the planet's oxygen, and protecting the Amazon from deforestation is vital during the climate crisis. Many environmentalists are blaming the sharp rise on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's administration.
The data, collected by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), found that deforestation reached 9,762 square kilometers this year (the 12 months leading up until July 2019), according to Reuters. That means forest 12 times the size of New York City was destroyed between August 2018 and July 2019, according to The New York Times. That is a 29.5 percent increase from the previous year, and the highest level of deforestation since 2008, Reuters added.
While this news is obviously a bad thing for the Amazon, Reuters suggests that the statistic may help put additional pressure on Bolsonaro, who is known for being anti-environmental protection. Bolsonaro has made it clear that protecting the Amazon from deforestation is not a priority for his administration — in fact, Bolsonaro has been quoted saying that he wants to use his power to further develop and exploit the Amazon rainforest.
Bolsonaro has been in office since Jan. 1, 2019, and many environmentalists and climate protection groups are blaming the president's administration for the increasing deforestation rates in the Amazon. “This figure is the direct result of the strategy implemented by Bolsonaro to dismantle the environment ministry, prevent the enforcement of laws, shelve plans previous governments made to curb deforestation and empower, through rhetoric, those who commit environmental crimes,” reads a statement from Brazilian environmental group Climate Observatory, as translated by The New York Times.
In August, Andrew Miller, Advocacy Director for Amazon Watch, told Green Matters in an interview that while Brazil technically does have laws protecting the rainforest from intentional deforestation, Bolsonaro's government is not enforcing them; rather, they are ignoring the laws in order to support agribusiness. Miller told Green Matters:
"[The Bolsonaro administration] is not enforcing [environmental laws]. They’re slashing budgets, they’re working to change the laws right now in the Brazilian Congress. It’s a big fight, right now, literally this week, the same time the fires are going on, the Brazilian government is proposing to weaken environmental rules. On the policy level, Bolsonaro has appointed the worst people as ministers. In a very Trumpian style, [Bolsonaro] has hired people who come directly from the same industries that they’re supposed to regulate."
Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles discussed the new deforestation data at a briefing this week. He believes that this means the government needs a new strategy to protect the Amazon from illegal logging, mining and land grabbing, which all contribute to deforestation, as per Al Jazeera. As Miller mentioned, Salles was appointed by Bolsonaro — so it's hard to tell if the Environment Minister will genuinely work on a new strategy to protect the Amazon.
One of the primary causes of the Amazon's deforestation is cattle ranching. As explained by the WWF, over the past five decades, humans have purposely destroyed about 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest — 80 percent of which was done to make room to raise cattle to produce beef and dairy. Other reasons humans have purposely caused deforestation in the Amazon is for harvesting palm oil, illegal logging, and growing soybeans to feed livestock (about 67 percent of the world's soy is fed to livestock).
If you want to do your part to protect the Amazon and fight the Brazilian government's lax environmental protections, click here for some ways you can help.