Tipping Point of No Return As Fires Surge
Accelerating deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has reached record levels in the first six months of 2022, threatening the ongoing climate change crisis. Deforestation has increased by 20% since 2021. Scientists have warned that the rainforest is reaching a “tipping point”, contributing to a climate apocalypse as we wait in existential oblivion.
With nearly one-fifth of the forest destroyed already, scientists believe that the tipping point will be reached at 20% to 25% of deforestation. Once reached, vast portions of the rainforest will be converted into degraded open savannah.
Furthermore, the Amazon will no longer be able to generate its own rainfall and support its own ecosystems. This will alter weather patterns and water cycles throughout South America, releasing billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Some deforested areas of the Amazon are already releasing more carbon than they absorb. Satellite footage has shown that 3,980 km, an area five times the size of New York City, was destroyed during the first half of 2022. Annual fires linked to deforestation in the Amazon poison the air that millions of Brazilians breathe. This significantly impacts public health, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations.
The Importance of the Amazon Rainforest
The rainforest is the most biologically diverse place on Earth, containing millions of undiscovered species. The Amazon is also an incredibly unique place with the world’s largest rainforest and river system.
Human rights are under direct threat due to the destruction of the rainforest. The Amazon is home to 30 million people and over 350 indigenous and ethnic minorities. These groups heavily rely on nature for agriculture, clothing, and traditional medicines. Deforestation in the Amazon severely threatens access to these communities’ basic needs.
The Amazon rainforest is an essential resource for tackling the climate change crisis. It serves as an essential “carbon sink” that traps up to one-fourth of the world’s carbon dioxide. Thus, the rainforest absorbs between 90 billion to 140 billion metric tons of carbon from the air and stores it in its vegetation. This process is an essential counterbalance to releasing carbon and slowing the pace of global warming.
Additionally, the Amazon plays a vital role in regulating regional weather patterns. The rainforest also pumps an estimated 7 trillion tons of water into the atmosphere annually. Moreover, the rainforest recycles between 50%-75% of its annual rainfall back into the atmosphere. This helps in stabilizing local and global climates.
Bolsonaro’s Unapologetic Deforestation in the Amazon
The far-right Bolsonaro government’s systematic rampage against basic environmental protections has resulted in a surge in fires and deforestation in the Amazon. Deforestation in the Amazon has increased by 92% since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019. The Bolsonaro administration has undercut Brazil’s federal environmental agencies, weakening environmental law enforcement. They have removed experienced environmental agents from leadership positions and publicly derided the agencies’ work. Consequently, Bolsonaro’s policies and rhetoric have effectively allowed criminal networks to continue destroying the rainforest.
The graph below illustrates the rate of deforestation occurring between 2010-2022 during the months between January and April.
Brazil is one of the world’s top ten emitters of greenhouse gases, with emissions primarily driven by changes in land use. The continued high levels of deforestation occur despite Bolsonaro’s pledge to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and make Brazil carbon-neutral by 2050. The emissions caused by Bolsonaro’s policies will cause over 180,000 deaths related to excess heat this century.
Bolsonaro approved over 1,500 new pesticides since taking over office. Many pesticides contain active ingredients, which are illegal under EU law. These active ingredients are dangerous to human and environmental health. An example of this is the herbicide atrazine which has been illegal in the EU for more than 15 years due to its hazardous effects on groundwater. However, atrazine is in more than 70 commercial products in Brazil.
Increase in Violence Against Indigenous Groups in the Amazon
On June 5th 2022, journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araújo Pereira went missing during a trip to a remote area in the Amazon called Javari Valley. This is the second biggest Brazilian indigenous territory where the world’s highest concentration of uncontacted indigenous tribes live.
The reporters were raising awareness and defending the rights of indigenous communities facing the consequences of climate change. Increased levels of illegal activities have occurred in Javari Valley under Bolsonaro’s power. According to the National Institute of Criminalistics in Brazil, the reporter’s bodies were discovered on June 17th following their murder due to criminal gangs operating in the forest.
The Food Behind Deforestation
Approximately 60% of the Amazon rainforest lies on Brazil’s territory. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef and soybeans. Beef and soy production is driving more than two-thirds of the recorded habitat loss in Brazil’s Amazon.
Greenpeace released a report exposing the links between deforestation in the Amazon and soy and meat. The report showed that between 70-90% of the world’s soybean crop is used as animal feed. This highlights how demand for meat is the driving force behind the Amazon’s destruction. Disposable incomes across many developing countries are starting to increase rapidly. As a result, middle-income earners’ demand for beef has accelerated.
Farmers are bulldozing trees and creating forest fires to make way for crops and pasture. Deforestation destroys more than two football pitches every four minutes. These large-scale fumes are so big they can be seen from space.
Climate Change Lawsuit
On the 11th of November 2020, seven political parties in Brazil brought a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to implement the national deforestation policy and significantly contributing to climate change. In the case PSB et al. v. Brazil, the parties allege that by failing to implement the Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon Deforestation, the federal government violated the fundamental rights of those living in the Amazon and throughout Brazil, indigenous peoples and present and future generations.
This was the first public hearing on climate change that reached the Brazilian Supreme Court, marking a landmark case for Brazil’s legal system. This pending climate change case arrives at a moment of extreme urgency as time runs out.
Furthermore, in October 2021, an environmental law group filed an official complaint at the International Criminal Court. All Rise accused Bolsonaro’s administration of crimes against humanity for their role in supporting deforestation.
What is the Amazon Rainforest’s Future & How Can We Protect It?
There will be catastrophic environmental consequences if action is not taken immediately to prevent the Amazon rainforest from reaching its tipping point. More than half of the Amazon may be destroyed by 2030, severely deepening the climate change crisis.
“We have to address the massive economic forces that drive deforestation. Otherwise, it won’t end; it will just move from one ecosystem to another.”Leonardo Fleck
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
The leading drivers behind this accelerating deforestation are:
- Demand for meat.
- Unchecked agricultural expansion.
- Lack of sufficient governance.
- Uncurbed expansion of ranching.
- Unsustainable farming practices which clear forests and leave areas more prone to fires that can quickly become uncontrolled.
- Illegal and unmitigated gold mining.
- Illegal logging.
- Illegal fires to make way for farming.
- Lack of law enforcement.
We must address the above issues and collectively help to protect our beautiful Amazon rainforest. We can do this by safeguarding and protecting wild places, empowering and informing people to change their lifestyle choices and putting science and technology to work.