The government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is wreaking environmental havoc in one of the most ecologically important places on Earth. The Amazon basin, more than half of which is in Brazil, accounts for 40 percent of the world’s tropical forests and 10-15 percent of the earth’s biodiversity. Almost one quarter (800,000km² of Brazil’s original 4m km²) of Amazon forest has been lost to development including logging, agriculture, and mining. Last month alone Brazil destroyed more than 1,800 square kilometers of the rainforest earning Bolsonaro the nickname, “Capitão Motoserra” (“Captain Chainsaw”).
A total of 1.8 million species and almost one million indigenous people in Brazil face an immediate threat from the Bolsonaro government. At least 9 Indigenous people have been killed this year in three separate attacks.
Brazil has gutted environmental agencies and appears to be determined to decriminalize deforestation in the Amazon. Bolsanaro has curtailed enforcement of environmental protections and there have been mass firings of officials including the heads of deforestation-monitoring operations. These actions have led to charges that the Brazilian federal government is dismantling the countries environmental oversight infrastructure. This is reminiscent of what Trump did to the US EPA. Like Trump Bolsonaro has also slashed the environmental ministry’s budget.
There are good reasons why Bolsonaro is called the Trump of the Tropics. The Brazilian and American presidents share a lot in common. Like the Trump administration, the Bolsonaro Presidency has undermined a wide range of regulations and weakened key environmental institutions. Many would agree that these two men are the most environmentally dangerous heads of state in the world.
According to data from the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) the Amazon region recorded the highest level ever of illegal deforestation for a single month in May 2019 (739 sq kilometers or 285 sq miles) and the Guardian reports that it “exploded” in July (2,254 sq km or 870 sq miles). Hundreds of thousands of hectares of Amazon forest are being destroyed at an ever accelerating pace. INPE director Ricardo Galvão, was fired for speaking the truth.
Fines for deforestation and seizures of illegally harvested timber are way down and the situation is not likely to improve any time soon as monitoring operations planned for coming months have either been cancelled or downsized.
“With Bolsonaro, people who destroy forests feel safe and those who protect forests feel threatened,” Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator said.
Brazil is slashing conservation units and the country’s National Congress is advancing legislation that would eliminate protections for more than a million hectares of Amazonian rain forests. Even areas that are protected are being are being developed.
The Economist reports that the situation in the Brazilian Amazon is fast approaching irreversible tipping points and this has global implications. Rain forests sequester carbon and as such they are vital to our efforts to combat the climate crisis. Deforestation adds to global warming by releasing large volumes of carbon. It also disrupts climate patterns and contributes to drought.
There have been sweeping student protests against Bolsonaro all across Brazil. Amnesty International condemned Bolsonaro’s actions and a group of Democrats have called on Secretary of State Pompeo to do the same. Indigenous women have also demonstrated.
Efforts are also underway to organize a boycott. In April more than 600 European scientists and 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups signed an open letter in which they called for a boycott of Brazilian products linked to the rainforest and human right violations. The signatories have urged the EU to make trade contingent on improvements in environmental and human rights. Here are the three key points:
1. Brazil should uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
2. Consumers should have access to information about products that come from deforestation or places where indigenous rights are under attack.
3. Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including scientists and policy-makers, should be involved in defining social and environmental criteria for traded goods.
As reported by Grist, Amazonian deforestation has even been turned into a consciousness raising Brazilian telenovela by the name. The show is called Aruanas and it chronicles the dangers of environmental advocacy under Bolsonaro.
“We want this show to make the environment a subject for the average family at the dinner table — to make it a more everyday topic for Brazilians,” Marcos Nisti, co-creator of the series, told the Guardian. “This is not other people’s problem – it’s our problem. It’s a problem for all human existence.” “We want to enter people’s hearts,” he added. “It’s not the normal way we get information about global warming, but it’s a way to connect with people.”