Deforestation Spikes in the Amazon Amid Coronavirus Crisis

This photo shows the Amazon burning back in August 2019.
This photo shows the Amazon burning back in August 2019.

Activity in most of the world has come to a halt due to the spread of the coronavirus, but illegal logging and land grabbing in the Amazon rainforest shows no sign of slowing down. New data reveals that deforestation is the worst it’s been in the region in over a decade.

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Conservation news site Mongabay used data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute to measure how bad deforestation has gotten in the world’s largest rainforest. More than 3,533 square miles have been lost in the last 12 months. That’s an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. The last time the situation was this bad in the Amazon was May 2008, when a record 3,548 square miles were lost in a 12-month period.

So far in 2020, the Amazon has lost 300 square miles of forest, per Mongabay, which is 55 percent higher than at this point last year. This devastation kicked off long before the novel coronavirus disrupted daily life, though. 2019 saw the rainforest erupt into flames. It’s got a lot to do with right-wing racist Jair Bolsonaro becoming president in Brazil.

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But the covid-19 pandemic is making a bad situation worse. So far, Brazilian indigenous groups have confirmed at least seven cases of the deadly virus, according to National Geographic. A 15-year-old Yanomami boy died of the virus in Brazil. So not only do these loggers threaten the sustainability of the rainforest; they are threatening the health and safety of the indigenous people who live there.

They were already experiencing direct violence at the hands of these criminals, but this is another level of danger. For indigenous people across the Americas, the onslaught of disease is eerily reminiscent of the genocide that began in the 15th century—in part due to new germs their immune systems had never encountered. For some of these remote communities, their only pathway to exposure to covid-19 is through those trying to destroy their home.

This destruction also helps fuel the spread of these diseases because it destroys key habitats wildlife rely on, new research has found. Without it, they’re more likely to interact with humans.

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This forest loss impacts people everywhere. The Amazon Rainforest serves as a major carbon sink, helping suck carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it within its trees. Unfortunately, when rainforest burns—the destruction method of choice for those who want to clear land to be used for ranching or agriculture—all that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. If this pattern of deforestation continues, the Amazon will become a source of greenhouse gas emissions rather than a place to store them, research has found. That’ll only accelerate the climate crisis.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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An interesting thought experiment from Foreign Policy:

Who Will Save the Amazon (and How)?

A hypothetical future scenario from the article.

Aug. 5, 2025: In a televised address to the nation, U.S. President Gavin Newsom announced that he had given Brazil a one-week ultimatum to cease destructive deforestation activities in the Amazon rainforest. If Brazil did not comply, the president warned, he would order a naval blockade of Brazilian ports and airstrikes against critical Brazilian infrastructure. The president’s decision came in the aftermath of a new United Nations report cataloging the catastrophic global effects of continued rainforest destruction, which warned of a critical “tipping point” that, if reached, would trigger a rapid acceleration of global warming. Although China has stated that it would veto any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Brazil, the president said that a large “coalition of concerned states” was prepared to support U.S. action. At the same time, Newsom said the United States and other countries were willing to negotiate a compensation package to mitigate the costs to Brazil for protecting the rainforest, but only if it first ceased its current efforts to accelerate development.

It’s interesting that the author of the think piece choice Gavin Newsom as the US president in 2025.

The article goes on:

The question, therefore, is how far would the international community be willing to go in order to prevent, halt, or reverse actions that might cause immense and irreparable harm to the environment on which all humans depend? It might seem far-fetched to imagine states threatening military action to prevent this today, but it becomes more likely if worst-case estimates of our climate future turn out to be correct.