As per satellite data, an Amazon rainforest area of roughly the size of a football pitch is getting lost every passing minute.
As the new right-wing president of Brazil prefers development to conservation, it has expedited the momentum of such losses.
While speaking anonymously, a senior Brazilian official stated that his government had been supporting deforestation.
How does the forest get cleared?
Usually, bulldozers are used either by pushing against the trunks to uproot trees or by a machine pair moving along with a chain between them.
Giant trees were found lying on the sides of the vast stretch of a recently cleared land with much of the foliage still green and leaving patches of bare earth drying under a scorching sun.
Following that, after clearing the timber, those will be sold or burned while getting the land ready for farming.
Whereas in other areas, illegal loggers find out new ways to reach the particularly precious hardwood trees to sell on the black market on demand.
How does this affect the forest?
Since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president, the country owning most of the Amazon region shows a sharp increase in clearances of trees as per Satellite images.
As a hectare on an average cleared every minute, it leads to a staggering scale of losses, particularly over the past two months according to a most recent analysis.
According to official figures, the only most significant reason for felling trees is to create new pastures for cattle. During their visit, they witnessed numerous herds grazing on land that had been rainforest earlier.
Previous governments, with the help of concerted action by federal agencies and resorting to a penalty system, had managed to lower the clearances to some extent over the past decade.
However, Mr. Bolsonaro and his ministers reversed this approach by criticizing the penalties and overseen a dramatic reduction in timber confiscations as well as convictions for environmental crimes.
Why does it matter to the forest so much?
A vast amount of carbon is accumulated over centuries or even millenniums in the billions of trees of the forest.
Moreover, a vast quantity of carbon dioxide also gets absorbed by the leaves every year that would otherwise remain in the atmosphere, thereby causing a rise in global temperatures.
From 1980-2010, carbon dioxide equivalent to the fossil fuel emissions of almost nine countries owning or bordering the forest got pulled in by the trees of the Amazon rainforest as per one recent estimate.
The forest is considered to have the richest biodiversity on the Planet, and habitat for possibly 1/10th of the overall species of plants and animals.
One million indigenous people live here hunting and gathering amid the trees.
What does the new policy of Brazil indicate?
The impact is so “huge” that a senior Brazilian environment official took the risk of giving an unauthorized interview to bring it to the attention of the world.
He was secretly met by disguising the face and voice as Mr. Bolsonaro has banned his environment staff from coming to the media.
A startling inside picture came over during the three hours’ time from small, under-resourced government experts’ teams, passionate about saving the forest, but seriously undermined by their political masters.
Agricultural businesses and small farmers backed Mr. Bolsonaro on a populist agenda, and many of them believe that the Amazon region is being protected to a great extent and that the influence of environment staffs was also formidable.
He wants to weaken the forest protection laws and has attacked the civil servants in a job of guarding trees.
According to the environment official, the result is that “it feels like we are the enemies of the Amazon, when in fact we should be seen in a completely different way, as the people trying to protect our ecological heritage for future generations.”
“They don’t want us to speak because we’ll say the truth, that conservation areas are being invaded and destroyed, there are many people marking out areas that should be protected.”
Other than officially recognized figures for deforestation, the figures could be even worse according to the official.
“There’s a government attempt to show the data is wrong, to show the numbers don’t portray the reality,” he told me.
Questions arising about the work of the current government agency made Ministers think of hiring an independent contractor for handling the information from satellite images of the region.
The official fears that the rate of losses could accelerate because deforestation usually takes place in the months that are drier and the rainy season is coming to an end now.
“In truth, it can be even worse,” he said because the satellite images of many recently damaged areas haven’t yet been picked up.
“People need to know what’s happening because we need allies to fight against invasions, to protect areas, and against deforestation.”
What the government has to say about this?
The repeated requests for interviews with the environment and agriculture ministers were declined.
The “Trump of the Tropics,” Mr. Bolsonaro invited the US president to be a partner for the exploitation of the resources of the Amazon earlier this year.
Last month, the environment minister Ricardo Salles told BBC Brasil in an interview that there would be rewards for landowners for preserving forest and also that developed nations should foot the bill.
The response was assertive, particularly at the time when voices of the outside world are calling for saving the forest.
General Augusto Heleno Pereira, the top security adviser of the president, told Bloomberg last month that it was “nonsense” that the Amazon was a part of the world’s heritage.
“The Amazon is Brazilian, the heritage of Brazil and should be dealt with by Brazil for the benefit of Brazil,” he said.
How do the farmers view this?
Farming organizations have argued for decades about the restrictive network of protected forest areas including the reserves for indigenous people that hinders any developing country in its efforts of creating jobs.
In the city of Santarem, which is a hub for soya and cattle, a leader of the farmers’ union, mentioned that other countries had already cleared their trees for agriculture but did not want Brazil to do the same.
Vanderley Wegner said that the countries like the US and Europe, which buy produce from the Amazon region, have very less strict controls on their forests, and that Europe “has tiny forest left” anyway.
“We have to develop the Amazon. More than four million people live here and they need development too, it’s a constitutional right of every Brazilian citizen,” he said.