- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 50 percent in October, ending a streak where the deforestation rate had declined for three straight months, according to data released Friday by the national space research institute INPE.
- The news came days after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to threaten the use of military force against the United States should it attempt to impose sanctions on the South American country for its failure to slow rising deforestation.
- Bolsonaro is known for making contentious statements, including blaming environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for deforestation in the Amazon.
- Bolsonaro has presided over a sharp increase in deforestation since he took office in January 2019.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 50 percent in October, ending a streak where the region’s deforestation rate had declined for three straight months, according to data released Friday by the national space research institute INPE. The news came shortly after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to threaten the prospect of using military force against the United States should it attempt to impose sanctions on the South American country for its failure to slow rising deforestation.
INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system shows that 836 square kilometers of Amazon forest — an area is 246 times the size of New York City’s Central Park — were cut down during October 2020. The month’s clearing brings the area of forest loss for the year-to-date to 7,899 square kilometers, 6% below where it stood at the same time last year when deforestation hit the highest level recorded since 2008.
The October data also showed a 3% increase in forest degradation and selective cutting — which often precede outright deforestation — and a 66% jump in the area affected by fires over last year. INPE estimated the extent of “burn scars” at 14,487 square kilometers, an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut.
The increase in the burned area is not surprising. Aerial monitoring and satellite imagery have shown widespread fires across the Brazilian Amazon and adjacent areas like the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, in recent months. Some of these fires have burned through dense tropical rainforests, protected areas, and Indigenous territories. Fires were so bad over the summer that President Bolsonaro sent in the army to try to quell the burning.
On Tuesday, President Bolsonaro made international headlines when he warned U.S. president-elect Joe Biden that Brazil would respond with “gunpowder” if America tries to impose economic sanctions for rising Amazon deforestation. Biden suggested there could be unspecified “economic consequences” during the first presidential debate in late September. He also said the world should offer Brazil $20 billion to combat Amazon deforestation.
“We saw recently there a great candidate to head of state say that if I don’t put out the fire in the Amazon, he will put up commercial barriers against Brazil,” Reuters quoted Bolsonaro as saying, in reference to Biden, who Bolsonaro has yet to recognize as president-elect. “And how can we deal with all that? Just diplomacy is not enough … When saliva runs out, one has to have gunpowder, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Bolsonaro is known for making contentious statements and inflammatory rhetoric. For example, he’s blamed environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for deforestation in the Amazon to deflect international criticism for his administration’s efforts to roll back environmental law enforcement, grant amnesty to illegal deforesters, and encourage mining, logging, and industrial agriculture. Deforestation has risen sharply since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.