When Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro addressed the U.N. General Assembly last week, he confused onlookers by boasting about his environmental record. Haven’t we been hearing about how the Amazon rainforest is collapsing on his watch? Science news service Newswise did some fact-checking to get to the bottom of Bolsonaro’s claims.
After bragging about Brazil’s environmental protections, Bolsonaro claimed that Amazon deforestation was reduced by 32% this August compared to the previous August and that 84% of the forest is intact. Newswire consulted its trusted sources and concluded Bolsonaro’s statement was half true.
According to The Guardian, the rainforest shrank by 10,476 square kilometers between August 2020 and July 2021. This is 13 times the size of New York City. Brazilian research institute Imazon said destruction in the Amazon is moving at its fastest pace in the last decade. Brazilian National Institute of Space Research reported that 80% of the Amazon rainforest remains intact. Carbon offset programs haven’t made up for the gap left by deforestation. Early this year, a study in Environmental Research Letters demonstrated that new forest growth had offset less than 10% of carbon emissions from Amazon deforestation.
Bolsonaro’s Amazon approach has been a mixed bag. The president has been blamed for encouraging development in the Amazon and weakening government environmental agencies that try to stop illegal logging and mining. On the other hand, he’s deployed thousands of soldiers to battle illegal fires and deforestation.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s approval rating continues to tank. In August, a poll found that 54% of Brazilians rated him as “bad, terrible,” while only 23% said he was “good or great.” The previous month, those figures had been 52% and 25%, respectively. By September, protestors across Brazil organized marches against the president. Many Brazilians have not been impressed with Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. The president has denounced masks, vaccines and lockdowns, while more than 580,000 Brazilians have died of the virus.
Lead image via Anderson Riedel / PR