In August, the Amazon forest was being cleared at nearly twice the level of July, according to the Brazilian government. That’s a 228 percent increase over a year ago. The government, chagrined, says local elected officials are letting loggers, ranchers, and large-scale soy farmers cut the forest as a way of increasing votes. Environmentalists say the rapid rise in deforestation is being driven by the rapid rise in food prices, making soy and cattle even more remunerative. It’s cheaper and easier to clear new forest than reclaim and rehabilitate already deforested land. And so the chopping, clearing, and carbon-releasing goes on.
What was new and surprising in the recent news was that the Brazilian government itself topped a list, prepared by Brazil’s environment ministry, of the 100 biggest illegal Amazon loggers. Strange, but apparently true. The illegal clearing has taken place on land controlled by the government agency, Incra, that’s responsible for parceling out land to the (many) landless poor. Large landowners responded to the news by charging that small landholders, too, are destroying the forest. The government counters that land titles are falsified regularly and indigenous peoples shunted aside, or bought off cheaply by cattle, soy and timber barons.
“It was a terrible result,” Brazil’s new environment minister Carlos Minc said about the August rise in Amazon deforestation. Of the top 100 list, he vowed: “We’re going to blow all 100 of them out of the water and then some.” Stay tuned.