Deforestation in Brazil’s part of the Amazon basin has almost doubled in June compared to May — and May also had a higher-than-usual deforestation rate. This is largely attributed to the current administration reducing controls in the area which has emboldened loggers.

Logging in the Amazon. Image in public domain.

The Amazon basin is 20% larger than the entire European Union put together. It hosts the largest rainforest in the world, which has been teeming with biodiversity for 55 million years. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil (60%) and has been continuously inhabited by humans for at least 11,000 years. With its over 400 billion trees, the Amazonian rainforest stores centuries worth of carbon, deflecting an important amount of solar heat. Around 20% of all the world’s freshwater cycles through this ecosystem, feeding its rivers, soil, plants, and animals. But, as we’ve known for quite a while, the rainforest is in trouble — and the current administration led by Jair Bolsonaro shows little intent to protect it.

Just minutes after he was sworn into office, Bolsonaro started an assault on Amazon rainforest protections, transferring the regulation and creation of indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is heavily influenced by agriculture industry lobby — the largest cause of deforestation in the area. His actions have emboldened loggers in the area. Although deforestation was temporarily stopped by a heavy rain season, things appear to be much worse than last year.

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“Bolsonaro has aggravated the situation,” said Paulo Barreto, a researcher at Brazilian non-governmental organization Imazon.

In May, deforestation rose 34% compared to the same month last year, and in June clear cutting went up by 88%.

Deforestation is typically measured across an entire year to the end of July, but this year is already well on track to surpass its predecessor. Over the 11 months that have passed so far, there has been an increase of 4,565 square kilometers (1,762 square miles), with June alone exhibiting losses of 920 square kilometers.

Most of the area is converted into agricultural planting, particularly soybeans and grains. Ironically, this is largely fueled by the planet’s lust for meat, as most of these plants aren’t being used to feed people, but rather to feed cattle. Globally, 98% of soybeans are used to feed cattle, despite the fact that pound per pound, they have just as much protein as beef. Expanding ranches is also a driving force behind deforestation, as is the mining sector.

Claiming to boost economic growth, Bolsonaro has moved in to dismantle many environmental laws, as well as protections for the indigenous people. He has repeatedly spoken against environmental protections and “excessive” fines against logging. Along with his son, who is also a senator in the country, Bolsonaro is pushing to remove legislation that forces Amazon farmers to maintain a 20-80% tree cover.

The Amazon rainforest is vital for the global fight against climate change, making its protection a priority not only for Brazil, but for the entire world.