The Brazilian Amazon rainforest has suffered a surge in deforestation in recent months, reaching unprecedented levels in May as Brazil’s far-right government under President Jair Bolsonaro continues to grant free license to illegal logging, farming and mining activities in once-protected lands.
According to data from the government’s satellite monitoring agency, the Brazilian Amazon lost about 285 square miles in May, which is equivalent to two football fields every minute, the Guardian reports.
May marks the beginning of the dry season, when most forest clearance and burning takes place.
May’s 285 square miles adds to a loss of over 837 square miles from August to April, up from the 698 square miles lost over the same period the previous year, according to the non-governmental monitoring organization Imazon.
Carlos Souza of Imazon said:
“The government can’t deny these numbers from their own agency. The question now is what they’ll do about it … By the end of July, we’ll have a clear idea of the impact of recent moves to dismantle environmental policies.”
Environmentalists fear that the trends will accelerate as the Bolsonaro government and its environmental ministry continue to act on behalf of mining and industrial agricultural interests, who have enjoyed free rein to expand their exploitation of the Amazon and protected areas. This has included Indigenous reserves that have ceased being demarcated since Bolsonaro came to power in January.
The radically far-right president and his officials have blamed environmental laws, activist groups, and indigenous peoples for hindering Brazil’s economic potential, showing scant signs that they are willing to halt the accelerated deforestation of the Amazon.
The 2 million-square-mile rainforest is a vital repository of carbon dioxide and plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change, a reality the president denies. The Amazon is also home to 10 percent of all known plant and animal species. Over the course of the past four decades, the jungle has lost a staggering 18 percent of its territory, according to Greenpeace.
Regardless, officials like Bolsonaro’s most senior security adviser, General Augusto Heleno Pereira, have shown little regard for outside concerns, remarking:
“I don’t accept this idea that the Amazon is world heritage … This is nonsense. The Amazon is Brazilian.”
The president has also blasted the main government monitoring agency as a “fines industry,” forcing it to issue fewer penalties than at any time other over the last 11 years while inspections have reduced by 70 percent from last year.
The environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has also failed to appoint regional officials and destroyed morale in the ministry with the sacking of veteran inspectors. Folha reported that Salles plans to privatize the satellite monitoring of the forest.
Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the president’s oldest son, introduced a bill last month that would remove the obligation of farmers to designate a minimum percentage of their property to natural vegetation. The measure would open up an area of over 412 million acres—an area larger than Iran—to the extractive industry.
A statement from Flavio Bolsonaro and Marcio Bittar, another senator backing the proposal, said:
“It’s a necessity to further occupy the Amazon region and exploit its natural resources.”
Brazil has also become victim of a “radical, fundamentalist and irrational” environmental movement, they added, noting that “there’s no sense in the ecological clamor manufactured by Europeans, North Americans and Canadians and imposed on the country and its rural producers.”
Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, said:
“The spike in deforestation is depressing, but hardly surprising: you have a government in Brazil who is dismantling nearly every environmental policy put in place since 1992 and who is harassing federal environmental agents, thus empowering environmental criminals.”