The Disappearing Forest
Listen to Today's Edition
The Amazon’s deforestation rate reached a new high in the first half of 2022, according to the Brazilian Space Agency, raising fears that the rainforest’s crucial role in maintaining the planet’s health may be irrevocably harmed, the Washington Post reported.
Satellite data showed that more than 1,500 square miles – about five times the size of New York City – were deforested in the first six months of this year. The agency’s data also showed that farmers burning forest vegetation to clear land for crops and cattle caused the most fire activity last month compared to June 15 years ago.
The findings have sparked concern about the future of the Amazon, which plays a key role in regulating regional weather patterns: The rainforest is considered one of Earth’s pivotal “carbon sinks” because it absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of global warming.
Analysts and environmental groups noted that the forest has come under threat in recent decades due to land clearing for cattle ranching and farming. The Amazon has lost about 17 percent of its forest in the past 50 years but scientists warn that this figure could reach 25 percent within a decade – which would irreversibly change the ecosystem.
The Brazilian government had previously implemented policies to protect the rainforest, such as empowering environmental enforcement agencies and discouraging the export of goods illegally produced from deforested land.
As a result, deforestation plummeted by 80 percent between 2004 and 2012 before rising sharply during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. The populist leader has relaxed environmental protections and pushed for policies that support the mining and ranching industries.
Bolsonaro has also questioned the previous deforestation numbers, noting that information about the Amazon region “goes outside Brazil in a very distorted way.”
Meanwhile, Brazilians are set to go to the polls later this year to elect a new president. Bolsonaro, who is running for reelection, has pledged to end illegal deforestation of the Amazon by 2030 and make Brazil carbon-neutral by 2050.
While environmental groups acknowledge that this goal is feasible, they remain skeptical that Bolsonaro will implement policies to avoid deforestation.