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amazon fires

Fires burn in the Amazon rainforest in Apui, Brazil, on September 21, 2022. (Photo: Michael Dantas/AFP via Getty Images)

'Dangerous Moment': Record Deforestation in Amazon Shows Stakes of Brazil Election

The runoff between Bolsonaro and Lula, warned one activist, is "not just about the future of Brazil, the result will have an impact on all of humanity."

Jessica Corbett

Conservationists and climate campaigners on Friday renewed criticism of Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro—who faces a runoff later this month—after government data revealed deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest broke yet another record last month.

"The Bolsonaro government is a forest-destroying machine."

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 1,455 square kilometers or about 562 square miles were lost, up 48% from the same month last year and the greatest loss of forest for any September since record-keeping began.

"Friday's preliminary figures also pushed deforestation in the region to a record high for the first nine months of the year, according to INPE, with 8,590 square kilometers cleared from January to September, equal to an area 11 times the size of New York City and up 22.6% from last year," Reuters noted.

Mariana Napolitano, WWF-Brazil's science manager, told the news agency that rising deforestation had "pretty relevant impacts not only for the biome, but also for the weather and the region's rainfall regime, as well as economic impacts for those who live in the Amazon and Brazil as a whole."

The new deforestation numbers come in the lead-up to the October 30 runoff election between Bolsonaro and leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who nearly won in the first round of voting last weekend.

"This is a very dangerous moment," Marcio Astrini, head of the Climate Observatory, told The Guardian. "The Bolsonaro government is a forest-destroying machine."

The watchdog group's leader suggested that illegal loggers and ranchers are working to clear parts of the Amazon—the majority of which is in Brazil— before Bolsonaro's potential defeat. He said that "they can see that their president could lose the election so they're taking advantage of this final stretch of Bolsonaro to tear down everything they possibly can."

If Bolsonaro's government "is given another four years, the Amazon's future will be uncertain," Astrini added. "What's at stake here is either us continuing to have any hope that the Amazon can be kept from collapsing—or definitively surrendering it to environmental criminals."

Greenpeace campaigners on Friday delivered similar warnings, highlighting how the destruction of the vital rainforest has ramped up since Bolsonaro took office in 2019.

"In recent years, the Bolsonaro government has shown complete disregard for a safe climate and for the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous peoples, and traditional communities," said Greenpeace Brazil spokesperson Cristiane Mazzetti.

"His administration has actively promoted an anti-environment, anti-Indigenous, and anti-democratic agenda that has resulted in a severe increase in carbon emissions and that paints a grave scenario in Brazil," the campaigner added. "This destructive project cannot continue."

Not only has Bolsonaro "allowed and in fact encouraged catastrophic levels of deforestation in the Amazon and other climate-critical Brazilian forests," but "his administration has also lobbied the U.K. and E.U. to try and block crucial legislation that could stop deforestation-linked products entering our markets," noted Paul Morozzo, senior food and forests campaigner at Greenpeace U.K.

"The Brazilian elections are not just about the future of Brazil, the result will have an impact on all of humanity," Morozzo warned. "If we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against the climate crisis."

Research released last month by Indigenous leaders and scientists showed that parts of the rainforest may have hit a tipping point and never recover from a shift to savannah.

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