Brazil set a new record for deforestation in the Amazon rainforest just three months into 2022. Deforestation often occurs through intentional fires, set for agricultural purposes. In Brazil, agriculture is a big industry, so deforestation is a common practice in the Amazon. INPE, a national space research agency, has shown that since 2015 an area of forest larger than New York City has disappeared. Their data further shows that from January 2022 to March 2022, deforestation increased by 64% compared to the same period a year ago.
While deforestation is beneficial to the agricultural economy in the short term, there are no long term benefits; on the contrary, deforestation causes damage to indigenous populations. According to the Borgen Project, deforestation is correlated with an increase in diseases due to air pollution. Additionally, deforestation depletes natural resources, posing food insecurity issues for indigenous tribes who lead their lives in tandem with the Amazon. Given the damage so far, combined with a bleak future, both preventive and reactive actions must be taken against deforestation in the Amazon. Unfortunately, the current government of Brazil is working against environmental protection laws.
This peak in deforestation is particularly concerning because it occurs during the rainy season in the Amazon. Traditionally, deforestation peaks during the dry season (July to October) when trees are easier to burn. Raoni Rajao, professor of environmental management at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, told Al Jazeera: “The fact that we are already at an all-time high and in fact [seeing] the figures that are generally expected in the middle of the year… are indeed worrying.
The current spike in deforestation reflects the Brazilian government’s growing neglect of the environment since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. At the time, he pledged to reduce deforestation practices. However, Bolsonaro’s actions have not reflected those promises. Bolsonaro weakened environmental protections, saying they inhibit economic growth, and instead called for an increase in mining and commercial agriculture: two huge polluting industries. According to Cristiane Mazzetti, a Greenpeace forestry activist, the Brazilian government is acting “deliberately against the measures necessary to limit climate change”.
The people of the Amazon River who live along the banks of the Amazon, the Ribereño, deeply suffer the effects of Bolsonaro’s neglect. This community has adapted to its environment, developing food and water supply systems that depend on the Amazon River and rainforest. The Ribereño have learned to use the resources of the Amazon in a sustainable way. As the rainforest disappears, these resources also disappear. As a result, indigenous tribes are threatened with food insecurity as hunting and fishing become increasingly difficult. In addition, deforestation has a link to water contaminated with pesticides, according to The Borgen Project – Bolsonaro is the source of water pollution for indigenous peoples.
In addition to food insecurity and water pollution, the Ribereño are also besieged from the air. Wildfires release carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), both of which are air-clogging pollutants. Air saturated with pollutants has been linked to respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
The Ribereño people are not the only tribe to experience these effects. According to Al Jazeera, 100 indigenous tribes in the capital Brasilia are voicing their opinions against the government’s cruel neglect and its impact on their way of life. Monica Yanakiew of Al Jazeera reported: “[The tribes are] protest to ensure that Congress will not approve bills pushed by the government to facilitate the exploitation of the Amazon [rain]forestry for commercial purposes.
Bolsonaro continues to push for laws that further facilitate deforestation, and the people of the Amazon River will no longer remain silent. Nevertheless, the Ribereños cannot fight this battle alone – they need the support of the public. Professor Eve Bratman, assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall College, called on people to “keep the issue in the news. Support organizations on the ground doing the work. It is important to be aware of the environment because it is our whole future that is at stake.”
The more media attention this issue receives, the more changes will occur in fire prevention, air quality monitoring, or enforcement of air quality standards. Brazil made international commitments to protect the Amazon, which it then ignored. Environmentalists need to make noise about the Amazon and force Bolsonaro to prioritize the deforestation problem that arises.