Deforestation rates in the Amazon are soaring – so much so that scientists predict an area the size of Greater London (1,569 square kilometers/606 square miles) will have been cleared by the end of the month (July 2019). This is according to government figures based on a real-time satellite monitoring system.
June was another exceptionally active month as far as deforestation is concerned, with logging rates 88 percent higher than in June 2018. This is all part of a broader trend that is seeing looser environmental regulation and more resolute agricultural and industrial activity in the wake of Jair Bolsonaro's ascension to the presidential office. Bolsonaro (dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics") has been extremely vocal about his support for the National Congress' so-called "ruralista" bloc (which backs the interests of large landowners and agricultural businesses) – and his distaste for environmental protections and internationally binding climate agreements.
Since taking office in January 2019, he has fulfilled pre-election promises to relax environmental "red-tape" and open up indigenous territories to mining. Bolsonaro has further honored his anti-environment credentials by cutting Brazil's primary environmental agency's budget by 24 percent, something that may at least partly explain why enforcement actions by that agency have dropped 20 percent in the last six months, according to the New York Times' calculations.
The result has been that Brazil has lost more than 3,444 square kilometers (1,330 square miles) of its rainforest cover since the start of the year, equating to a 39 percent increase in deforestation compared to the same period in 2018. Now, these latest figures show the deforestation rate has climbed to more than three soccer pitches' worth of land space, the Guardian reports.
In response, experts have expressed serious concern that the Amazon is edging worryingly close to a tipping point from which it cannot recover. Pass this tipping point and large swathes of the lush green rainforest could turn into savanna – a dire situation some experts warn could happen if deforestation is allowed to hit 20 to 25 percent, thanks to the added threats of climate change and forest fires. We are, according to Mongabay, already at 17 percent.
But Bolsonaro himself has dismissed the data, calling the figures (collected by his own government, no less) "lies", Science reports. He went further, telling journalists that concern over the Amazon was a form of "environmental psychosis" that should not concern the international community, even going as far as to say, "the Amazon is ours, not yours".
Although some 60 percent of the Amazon lies within Brazilian borders, it does have international significance, providing one of the world's largest carbon sinks. It soaks up so much carbon that it effectively nullifies the region's greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that it is already taking up a third less carbon than it did just a decade ago.
After seeing an 80 percent reduction in deforestation rates between 2006 and 2012, many are concerned at the recent upshoot of logging and mining in the area.
"Encouraging further deforestation in the Amazon, as President Bolsonaro has consistently done, is the height of irresponsibility, for the global atmosphere, the forest, indigenous peoples – and for Brazil's agricultural economy," Stephan Schwartzman, a senior director and expert in Tropical Forest Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), told IFLScience in an email.
"Research increasingly shows that rainfall regimes in Brazil and far beyond depends on standing forests – and that further deforestation could precipitate the conversion of large parts of the Amazon from forest to savanna."