Deforestation Rises in the Amazon

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

In October, deforestation rose in the Amazon for the first time in four months. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, has refused to take action against logging in the Amazon calling the act “cultural” and expressing that it “will never end.”

Yet this year, from July to September, logging slowed because Brazil’s rainy season makes logging difficult. However, in October, deforestation escalated again, rising 50% from the previous year to 323 square miles.

Why This Matters: The Amazon Environmental Research Institute estimates that by the end of 2020, the Amazon will have been depleted by 5,405 square miles, the highest amount of deforestation in a single year since 2006. 

Deforestation has surged in the Amazon since Bolsonaro assumed office in January of 2019 due to his weakening of environmental safeguards and the ways in which he’s emboldened loggers, miners, and ranchers. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, it’s also crucial to the fight against global climate change. 

The Bolsonaro Effect: While there’s been a long history of logging in the Amazon, as Al Jazeera explained, destruction in 2020 continues to be far higher than in the years before Bolsonaro. 

  • Bolsonaro has weakened environmental enforcement and called for more farming and mining in the Amazon to lift the region out of poverty, which environmental advocates say is emboldening Brazilians to cut down the forest.

Fires, which clear land for agricultural use after removing trees, have increased 20% over the course of 2020, the highest number of fires in a single year since 2010.

If deforestation continues in the Amazon at this rate, the consequences are dire. Destruction of this ecosystem can hinder its ability to store 76 billion tons of carbon. Additionally, the Amazon’s cloud system circulates huge quantities of water, and without trees, the Amazon could turn from lush rainforest into a savannah, putting at risk the 50,000 plant species that grow there and affecting the food sources for the 30 million people that live near the rainforest

The International Community Steps In: While Donald Trump praised Bolsonaro’s handling of the Amazon, President-elect Joe Biden could step in to pressure Brazil into greater conservation efforts. In the first presidential debate, Biden said that the world should give Brazil $20 billion dollars to stop Amazon deforestation, and punish the country economically for refusing to act. Biden has signaled that he plans to make good on that promise, in that his climate plan would “impose carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.”

Bolsonaro’s reaction to Biden’s presidential win? He issued a cryptic comment at an event: “We saw recently a great candidate to head of state say that if I don’t put out the fires in the Amazon, he will put up commercial barriers against Brazil. How do we deal with that? Diplomacy alone is not enough. When words fail, one has to have gunpowder.”

Enough international pressure might be what it takes to force Bolsonaro’s hand into action. 


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