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Why This Matters: The health of the Amazon rainforest is crucial in the fight against climate change. It’s the largest rainforest — one of the most biodiverse ecosystems — and it’s one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Continued logging, burning, and mining in the Amazon will result in the release of 76 billion tons of CO2. Moreover, a recent study reported that the Amazon is getting less and less rain, and thus could be transformed from rainforest to savannah this year.
Bolsonaro’s Environmental Failures
Deforestation and logging in the Amazon have thrived under Bolsonaro due to his weakening of environmental regulations which cleared the way for loggers, miners, and ranchers. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute reported that 2020 was the worst year for deforestation in the rainforest since 2006, with a loss of 5,405 square miles.
As part of Bolsonaro’s environmental plan, the military no longer assists environmental law enforcement but instead directs operations. This has resulted in multiple instances where loggers and miners were alerted to raids in advance due to incompetence, or perhaps corruption, by the military. In the state of Pará, the army chose to raid an illegal logging site, taking the loggers by surprise, but days before the operation, the military flew a helicopter over the site. By the time armed forces got there, the loggers were gone. The relationship between the military and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has grown more volatile in the past months, one IBAMA agent reported, “they call us watermelons, green on the outside, red in the middle. They think we’re communists.”
In August 2020, as a portion of rainforest twice the size of Delaware burned, Bolsonaro publicly claimed, “there aren’t any fires, nor is there one bit of deforestation. It’s a lie.” In September, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said that if elected, he would work with other nations to offer Brazil $20 billion to stop deforestation in the Amazon, threatening “economic consequences” if Brazil did not comply.
Bolsonaro’s Recent Conversion
Since then, Bolsonaro has changed his tune, but not necessarily for the right reasons.The Washington Post obtained an unpublished government plan to address the Amazon’s problems. They found that Bolsonaro’s main concern wasn’t with deforestation caused by industry that he enabled and empowered, but a fear that other nations would swoop in to steal and plunder the rainforest’s resources. In the plans, the authors point to China, France, Germany, England, and the United States as threats to Brazil’s sovereignty, a fear potentially influenced by Biden’s prior threats.
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of Climate Observatory says that Bolsonaro’s proposed narrative is hogwash, “these are conspiracy theories, as if the world had come together to take away the Amazon from Brazil just because Bolsonaro was elected.” Bolsonaro’s strategy shows similarities to those shown by President Trump throughout his administration, promoting conspiracy theories about fake statements made by American politicians and more.
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