In the first half of this year, deforestation claimed roughly 1,500 square miles of the Amazon rainforest, an area five times the size of New York City and the greatest loss since at least 2016, according to the Brazilian Space Agency.
Data further show that last month the number of wildfires burning in the Amazon in June hit a 15-year high, a worrying sign heading into late summer, as fires typically peak in August and September, Reuters reported.
“Agribusiness is hitting new records for forest destruction as the dry season arrives in the Amazon,” Cristiane Mazzetti, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Brazil, said in a statement. “If this trend does not change we will approach the tipping point of no return in which the Amazon could fail as a rainforest.”
The rainforest plays a crucial role in regulating the regional climate, as trees release some measure of rainfall back into the atmosphere, fueling further rainfall. But continued burning and clear-cutting is hampering the Amazon’s ability to recycle rainwater, threatening widespread drought and tree die-offs, scientists say. Over the last half-century, 17 percent of the rainforest has been lost to deforestation. If current trends continue, much of the Amazon could turn to savanna.
Since Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, took office in 2019, the rate of deforestation has doubled, The Washington Post reported. From 2012 to 2018, the Amazon lost around 2,500 square miles of forest annually. In the last three years, deforestation has reached as high as 5,000 square miles per year.
Bolsonaro, who is up for re-election in October, is trailing in the polls to former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has promised to protect Indigenous lands and “fight environmental crimes.” When Lula was last in power, from 2003 to 2011, deforestation dropped significantly.