The Amazon rainforest is shrinking. Bulldozers drive the trees out of the ground and the wood is sold or burned. The flat-rolled piece is then prepared for agriculture. Although this has been happening for decades, nature conservation organizations have been holding their breath since the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. "We can blame Bolsonaro, but the question comes from us."
Bolsonaro told The Guardian extensively last week about his plans with the Amazon. His government is open to partnerships with companies that want to exploit raw materials from the Amazon, such as miners. The president believes that mining in the Amazon can give the Brazilian economy a huge boost. For example, winning the precious metal niobium yields a lot of money.
This is at the expense of the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world. The area has a huge impact on the global climate. That's right: the trees in the Amazon have absorbed an enormous amount of CO2 over the course of thousands of years. Growing trees and leaves still absorb CO2. That is released again with cutting and burning. Maintaining the rainforest therefore plays a major role in limiting climate change.
"European countries have already destroyed their own ecosystems" President Jair Bolsonaro
Earlier this month, the rate of deforestation became clear on the basis of satellite images from the Brazilian agency for space research. The analysis suggested a significant increase in tree felling, especially in May and June. During these months, an average of one hectare of forest is cut down per minute. In the 31 days of May, 739 square kilometers of rainforest disappeared, according to government data. In the course of this summer it must be clear how large the hood is.
"You have to see the current increase in the context of changes in the past fifteen years," says Pieter Zuidema, professor of tropical forest ecology at Wageningen University. "Around 2004 there was a huge peak, then deforestation fell by around 80 percent. But any acceleration of deforestation is worrying. Just like the fact that the Brazilian government is no longer taking institutions within its own government seriously. Now good research institutions that use satellite images have been discredited. "
- The Amazon covers almost 7.8 million square kilometers
- The largest rainforest in the world is spread over Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Suriname, Ecuador and Guyana
- 64 percent of the area is in Brazil: just over 5 million square kilometers
Zuidema is referring to Bolsonaro's reaction to the satellite images. He labeled the analysis as "fabricated lies."
The president has received much criticism over the past few months about his environmental policy. Not that the new activities in the Amazon are falling out of the blue, because the exploitation of the rainforest was one of Bolsonaro's election promises during his campaign last year. And he has no message at all. "The Amazon is from Brazil, not yours", is his response to criticism from abroad. "European countries must get involved in their own affairs, because they have already destroyed their own ecosystems."
Deforestation in satellite images: On the left a part of the state of Rondonia in 1979, on the right in 2014. At the bottom of the photo on the right you can clearly see that trees have disappeared. (photo: Reuters)
Illegal lumberjacks feel free
"The Bolsonaro government does not yet have an active policy to cut large tracts of forest for agriculture and mining," says Valkman. "But the government is no longer actively enforcing it and that is why certain people, for example lumberjacks, feel free to do what they want."
"Over 8,000 square kilometers were cut in the past year," says Suzanne Valkman, head of forests for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "You can imagine that if the logging continues at that pace, a huge amount of forest will disappear. That area will be transformed for animal husbandry, agriculture, palm oil and soy plantations. The Amazon accounts for 75 percent of the rainfall in South America. If the rainforest changes, then the climate on the entire continent changes. The question is whether a tropical forest will ever grow. "
"We disapprove deforestation, but want gold and meat" Suzanne Valkman (WNF)
Bolsonaro's policy leads to many concerns among the indigenous people of the Amazon. "Bolsonaro wants to take away all our rights and make a profit on our country," Andre Karipuna, representative of the Karipuna tribe said to NU.nl last year.
But the lives of the other rainforest inhabitants are also feared. "The rainforest is rich in animal species," says Valkman. "Jaguars, parrots, monkeys and frogs need a large habitat where they can live undisturbed. But there is more and more disruption. In gold mines, mercury is released, a toxic substance. That ends up in the rivers, causing dolphins and fish to fall sick. That in turn affects the animals that eat the fish. We are already seeing populations diminishing. "
Amazon region in Brazil
Illegal charcoal ovens in the Amazon. © Reuters
Miners at an illegal mine in the Amazon in Brazil. © Reuters
A Brazilian is looking for gold in the Amazon. © Reuters
A black jaguar in brazil. Deforestation has a lot of influence on animals. © Reuters
An illegal mine in the Amazon in Brazil. © Reuters
A herd of cows in a place where the trees have been felled. © Reuters
Recovery takes decades
Bolsonaro is still the most powerful person in Brazil, so the question is what state the Amazon is in at the end of its four-year term. "The forest is growing slowly, so you can do a lot of damage in four years," says professor Zuidema. "Recovery takes decades. In wetter areas you can have a mature forest in fifty years, but for restoring full biodiversity you can be centuries away. Fortunately, the government is planting trees here and there. There are all sorts of arrangements for It is not the case that Brazil is suddenly a lawless state. "
Zuidema often sees the misunderstanding that deforestation is primarily associated with logging, but that is not the main reason for deforestation. "In the Amazon you have many different types of trees," he explains. "That is not comparable to the forests that we know in the Netherlands. In the case of logging, you can cut down a tree here and there. But it is usually a clear cut for soy plantations or livestock farms. Then there is a complete cut. then sold, the rest being burned. "
"Bolsonaro puts his finger on the sore spot"
No matter how embarrassing the deforestation and the plans may seem, Bolsonaro points the finger at the sore spot, according to Valkman of the WWF. She thinks nothing will change as long as our companies, financial institutions and we as consumers do not adjust our demand.
"We can blame Bolsonaro, but we import a huge amount of soy and corn from Brazil in Europe. We condemn the deforestation of the Amazon, but we do want to feed soy to our animals and continue to eat meat that comes from that area The same goes for gold mining: you want a gold ring on your wedding day, but you don't wonder how that gold is mined. Companies and financial institutions can hit Bolsonaro, they finance projects in Brazil and can really exert influence. "
See also: Indigenous population of Amazon threatened: 'Loggers are getting closer'