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Dramatic increase in Brazilian deforestation since Bolsonaro took office

Satellite images of the Brazillian Amazon rainforest from INPE (Brazil’s space agency) show that 2019 has seen an increase in deforestation. The increase coincides with President Jair Bolsonaro’s first year in office even though Bolsonaro says he thinks the data is false.  

Over 3,700 square kilometers of forest cover has been removed in 2019, 16 percent more than what was deforested in 2016, but the year is not yet over. 

The Amazon rainforest is one of Earth’s greatest treasure troves of biodiversity, housing a rich array of species found nowhere else on Earth. 

The forest also absorbs billions of tons of carbon dioxide every year. With deforestation and climate change carving out more and more of the rainforest, this crucial carbon sink shrinks and releases more carbon into the atmosphere. 

According to a report in New Scientist, deforestation is increasing more every month. July has been particularly bad and in the first 22 days of this month, more than 1,250 square kilometers of the forest has been removed. 

Satellite images can help show unusual spikes in deforestation but are not typically used to track annual deforestation patterns. Other satellites beyond the INPE have also detected an increase in deforestation these past few months. 

The Global Land Analysis & Discovery (GLAD) lab at the University of Maryland has had many deforestation alerts early in the summer, far more than last year. 

Given the already alarming trend coming to light, it’s predicted that deforestation in 2019 will have increased considerably by the end of the year when the official data is released. 

Bolsonaro’s presidency has been rife with controversy with many concerned about the President’s right-wing views on the environment, including his less than welcoming views on conservation, protecting indigenous groups, and the rainforest

“You have to understand that the Amazon is Brazil’s, not yours,” Bolsonaro said on Friday after facing scrutiny about the satellite imagery. “If all this devastation you accuse us of doing was done in the past the Amazon would have stopped existing, it would be a big desert.”

There have been no new laws about deforestation under Bolsonaro, and those who clear more than one-fifth of their land could still face hefty fines. However, it’s thought that landowners, fueled by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, are simply removing trees with no consequences. 

“What we can tell is people are feeling more enabled by the government,” Erika Berenguer at the University of Oxford, who met landowners during a recent visit to Brazil, told New Scientist.

The biggest driver of deforestation is clearing land for cattle to graze or to grow crops.  

There are claims that the INPE data has been manipulated, but researchers are quick to defend the agency. 

There has been a considerable effort to curb deforestation in the Amazon in the past, but an increase in deforestation could mean a departure from those efforts and put the rainforest, its resources, and its rich biodiversity at risk. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

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Image Credit: Shutterstock/Rich Carey

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