When hard-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil in April 2019, environmentalists harboured grave concerns about his policies in regards to the Amazon rainforest.
Mere months into his presidency, the controversial politician has made his thoughts on the matter painfully clear, favouring development over preservation while taking a hard-line anti-environmentalist, anti-Indigenous stance.
During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Now in power, he has reportedly taken steps to weaken the powers of forest protection, and has attacked civil servants who work to guard the trees.
The heartbreaking impact of Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental agenda has now been illustrated by a shocking new report from BBC News.
According to this new report, Bolsonaro’s presidency has already seen significant increase in the amount of rainforest being cleared, with a ‘football pitch’ patch of rainforest cleared every minute.
An anonymous senior official, told BBC News how the Brazilian government is now encouraging deforestation, with devastating satellite images showing an increase in trees being cleared.
This official has reportedly made the decision to speak with BBC News because he wanted the world to know about the ‘huge’ impact this destruction is having:
It feels like we are the enemies of the Amazon, when in fact we should be seen in a completely different way, as the people trying to protect our ecological heritage for future generations.
They don’t want us to speak because we’ll say the truth, that conservation areas are being invaded and destroyed, there are many people marking out areas that should be protected.
Previous administrations have attempted to curtail rainforest clearances through fines and action from federal agencies.
However, Bolsonaro has taken a different approach entirely, criticising these penalties and working to decrease convictions for environmental crimes. With the rainy season now coming to an end, the official has expressed fears that deforestation will only continue to escalate
The official has also suggested the situation could be even more dire than current figures suggest, telling BBC News:
There’s a government attempt to show the data is wrong, to show the numbers don’t portray the reality.
Noting how the many of the recently damaged areas may yet to be picked up by satellite images, the official continued:
In truth, it can be even worse.
People need to know what’s happening because we need allies to fight against invasions, to protect areas, and against deforestation.
In a comment to UNILAD, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace Emily Armistead described the figures given as ‘the stuff of nightmares’:
These figures are the stuff of nightmares. Destroying the Amazon rainforest at this pace means pushing more wildlife towards extinction, threatening Indigenous communities and fuelling the climate emergency by shrinking one of the world’s largest carbon stores.
And the causes of this devastation are very close to home. Our growing appetite for meat fed on soy and foods containing palm oil is causing forests to be chopped down all around the world. We’re literally eating into one of our planet’s key life support systems one mouthful at a time.
In order to fix our broken food system and stop forest destruction, we need major consumer brands to stop buying from suppliers who are still clearing rainforests, and we all need to eat less meat and more plant-based food.
Over the course of the last 40 years, 18 per cent of the Amazon – an area equivalent in size to the state of California — has been lost to illegal logging, soy plantations, and cattle ranching.
Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest belongs to Brazil, which is now in the hands of a man far more concerned with boosting the already powerful agribusiness lobby than working to assure the future of our shared planet.
Although Bolsonaro purports to support small farmers, his policies serve only to line the pockets of enormous companies which export beef, soy, and grains to China, Europe, and the US.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow told UNILAD:
It’s frightening how quickly the Amazon is being trashed right now. Felling trees to make way for cattle ranches and soy plantations beggars belief – especially when globally we need more forests to help prevent the worst effects of climate breakdown, let alone all the amazing wildlife we’re losing.
Behind this destruction is an insatiable demand for more cheap meat and dairy – soy crops are mostly used as animal feed in industrial production of pork and poultry, so it’s not just beef to blame.
Governments around the world, including the UK, must do far more to protect our forests and increase tree-planting to help combat climate change and protect nature. On top of this they should also encourage people to eat a more plant-based diet, with less and better meat and dairy.
According to figures from Greenpeace, the Amazon has a vital role in helping control the planet’s atmospheric carbon levels, with the Amazon Basin storing an approximate 100 billion metric tons of carbon. This is over 10 times the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.
The loss of the Amazon would mean more carbon emissions and a warmer world, making these latest reports of destruction a deeply troubling read to say the least.
Find out what you can do to support the protection of the Amazon here.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.