The Amazon is experiencing a surge in deforestation like it's never seen before – and it’s all thanks to the new management of Brazil under so-called “Captain Chainsaw”, President Jair Bolsonaro.
Over 2,254 square kilometers (870 square miles) of Amazon rainforest were chopped down in Brazil during July 2019 alone, a 278 percent increase on the same period in 2018, according to new data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) widely cited by Brazilian media.
So far in 2019, INPE satellite data have shown that 4,699 square kilometers (1,814 square miles) have been deforested in the Amazon – that's larger than the state of Rhode Island – compared to 2,810 square kilometers (1,084 square miles) in the same period last year.
Brazil contains roughly 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, with smaller chunks being found in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, and Suriname. Even beyond the very real threat to biodiversity and indigenous people, cutting down the Amazon will have knock-on effects across the world because the rainforest plays an integral role in carbon storage and climate change mitigation.
Since taking office as president on January 1, 2019, Bolsonaro has continually expressed hostility towards environmentalism and loosened environmental protections, instead opting for policies that are guided by nationalism and agro-business.
So, needless to say, he was not happy with these new results being published. In the days leading up to this new data being publicly released, his administration fired the head of the INPE, Professor Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, replacing him with military man Darcton Policarpo Damião. Brazil's environmental minister Ricardo Salles has also indicated that the government is looking for a private company to take over from the INPE to monitor deforestation in the Amazon.
Bolsonaro has doubled down on his attacks against Galvão, accusing him of "lying" about deforestation data and being "in the service of NGOs."
“I am convinced that the data is a lie, and we will ask the president (of the INPE) to come here and talk about it,” Bolsonaro told European journalists on July 19. “We understand the importance of the Amazon for the world – but the Amazon is ours, not yours."
“No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon,” he added. "You destroyed your own ecosystems.”
In spite of the drama, the former INPE chief Professor Galvão has stuck to his guns and reaffirmed that the data is accurate.
“This was a defense of the dignity of the Brazilian science, not only for Brazilian scientists, but for all scientists,” Galvão told The Washington Post this week. “Our data should never be curbed by political interests.”