The Brazilian Ministry of Environment has released data revealing preliminary estimates on the rate of deforestation in the Amazon over the past year. Sure enough, it makes for a pretty depressing read – people are cutting down more trees and destroying more land than they have in a decade.
According to satellite imagery, some 7,900 square kilometers (3,050 square miles) of Brazil's Amazon rainforest were lost between August 2017 and July 2018. That is equivalent to a landmass five times the size of London, 10 times the size of New York, 75 times the size of Paris, and 6.3 million times the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
That is an area 13.7 percent larger than the area destroyed by deforestation the previous year and, according to BuzzFeed, represents around 1.185 billion trees – a stat that highlights a worrying trend.
It could also be seen as particularly concerning given the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro (due to take office next year), who has been extremely vocal regarding his goals to effectively privatize the Amazon for the benefit of industry and at the expense of the environment. Environmentalists are worried that his tenure could spark a rise in the rate of deforestation after he promised to reduce fines for those found to be harming the rainforest.
Edson Duarte, Brazil's Environment Minister, points the finger of blame towards illegal loggers, noting "the upsurge of organized crime that acts in the illegal deforestation of the Amazon". The criminals, he says, are associated with other illegal practices, including arms trafficking.
"In addition to intensifying enforcement actions as the federal government has been doing in recent years, we need to broaden the mobilization of all levels of government, society, and the productive sector in the fight against environmental violations and in defense of the sustainable development of the biome," Duarte said in a statement.
To calculate these figures, the Ministry used satellite imagery, which documents and quantifies areas of deforested land larger than 6.25 hectares (15.4 acres). An area was considered to be deforested if the primary forest cover had been removed, regardless of what that land was later used for.
The figures reveal a striking rise in the rate of deforestation compared to this time last year when a still sizable 6,947 square kilometers (2,682 square miles) of land was destroyed. But it is also only a 0.08 percent increase on the year before that when 7,893 square kilometers (3,048 square miles) of land were deforested. What's more, it is a 72 percent improvement on 2004 figures, the year the Brazilian federal government initiated measures to combat deforestation.
Let's just hope it doesn't signal a disturbing new trend. Not only is the Amazon an invaluable resource in terms of biodiversity and carbon capture, but it is also an important economic resource. Recent research suggests that losing the Amazon would cost humanity up to 50 times the amount it would take to save it. And time to do so could be running out. According to a study published in March, we are fast approaching a tipping point past which the Amazon won't be able to recover.