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A Staggering Amount of Amazon Rainforest Disappeared Last Month

Deforestation has increased rapidly under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, as new satellite data reveals.

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Aerial view showing smoke rising from an illegal fire at the Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, on September 15, 2021.
Aerial view showing smoke rising from an illegal fire at the Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, on September 15, 2021.
Photo: MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP (Getty Images)

The number of trees cut down in the Brazilian section of the Amazon rainforest in January was five times greater than the same period last year, according to satellite imagery data from Brazil’s space research agency, INPE.

“The government, in fact, has created a golden opportunity for those who want to clear forests illegally or seize public lands; there is a deliberate lack of environmental inspection and many of those behind this wave of illegal deforestation are also expecting the Brazilian congress to pass legislation that will reward land-grabbing a practice connected with at least one third of all deforestation in the Amazon,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, spokeswoman for Greenpeace Brazil, in a statement.

The destruction of the rainforest hurts the many species that call the complex ecosystem their home. Deforestation has also potentially turned the once carbon-sequestering forest into a carbon emitter.

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The Amazon rainforest has been under attack for years—from loggers, forest fires, cattle ranching, and more. Large sections of destruction have been recorded since 2015, but the forest’s fate took a turn for the worse under right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who came into office in 2019. According to Greenpeace, destruction has increased rapidly during Bolsonaro’s time in office.

In 2020 alone, the Brazilian Amazon lost more than 3 million acres, which is an area roughly the size of Connecticut. In 2021, there was a glimmer of hope that Bolsonaro would take measures to protect the rainforest after he pledged to double the government’s spending on reducing deforestation in the Amazon. He then changed his mind and slashed the budget by more than 20% soon after his announcement.

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Given Bolsonaro’s dismal track record on environmental justice (and many other categories of justice), it’s likely that the rest of 2022 will see more deforestation in the Amazon.