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Brazil and climate change: Alfredo Sirkis’ murder and the ever-increasing deforestation under Bolsonaro

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Brazil is fast turning into the world’s biggest problem in curbing climate change and global warming. Under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, the country has seen rapid deforestation, despite international calls to stop this brutal attempt at destroying the natural resources for money.

According to Reuters, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rose for the 14th consecutive month in June, preliminary government data showed, heaping further pressure on President Bolsonaro who is under fire for worsening destruction of the rainforest on his watch.

Destruction rose 10.7% percent for the month, compared to June 2019, according to national space research agency Inpe. In the first six months of the year, deforestation is now up 25% to 3,066 square kilometers (1,184 square miles), agency data showed.
“The pressure is increasing,” said Mariana Napolitano, advocacy group WWF-Brasil’s head of science. “The deforestation data by itself shows that we now have a very complicated situation that is out of control in the Amazon.”

If there is another increase in deforestation in July, Brazil is headed for annual deforestation of more than 15,000 square kilometers, or an area larger than Connecticut, said Ane Alencar, science director at Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

That would be up from 10,129 square kilometers last year and the highest level of deforestation since 2005, according to official government data.

Inpe measures annual deforestation from August 2019 to July 2020, with the figures slated for release late in the year.

Researchers and environmental advocates blame Bolsonaro for emboldening illegal loggers, ranchers and land speculators by weakening environmental enforcement and calling for more commercial mining and farming in the Amazon to develop the economy.

Bolsonaro says he is being unfairly demonized and that Brazil has an exemplary environmental track record, pointing to vast swathes of forest that remain standing.

Following global pressure, especially from foreign investment firms, Bolsonaro has deployed the military to combat deforestation since May and next week is slated to ban fires in the Amazon region for 120 days.

Bolsonaro signed a decree extending authorization for the military deployment until Nov. 6, according to a notice published in the official government gazette on Friday.

Scientists say that preserving the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is vital to curbing climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas it absorbs and stores.

For Jan. 1 through June 25, IPAM and U.S.-based Woods Hole Research Center calculated that deforestation and fires in Brazil’s Amazon released 115 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, up roughly 20% from the same period a year ago. That is, according to their analysis, equivalent to the annual emissions of 25 million cars.

Alfredo Sirkis killed

Environmentalist Alfredo Sirkis, a founder of Brazil’s Green Party and a tireless campaigner for policies to curb climate change, died on Friday in a car crash, television network TV Globo said.

Sirkis, 69, was killed when the car he was driving hit a post on a highway outside his hometown Rio de Janeiro, broadcaster TV Globo reported, citing firemen at the crash.

A former leftist guerrilla, Sirkis was involved in the kidnapping of foreign diplomats to secure the release of political prisoners during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

Following years in exile and one year after Brazil returned to democratic rule, Sirkis co-founded the Green Party with fellow environmentalist Marina Silva, who came third in the 2010 elections with 19% of the vote.

Silva said Sirkis was an invaluable companion with whom she fought difficult political battles side by side.

“He was explosive and passionate about everything he believed in, sincere in criticism as in praise, a tireless activist of the causes he defended, a warrior of infinite tenderness,” she said in a statement.

Sirkis was elected to Congress but decided not to run for re-election in 2014.

He was a regular member of Brazil’s delegation to global climate change talks. In 2015, he founded a think tank, the Brazil Climate Center, that is affiliated with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

He also served as coordinator of the government-backed Brazilian Forum for Climate Change until 2019, when he was fired by Bolsonaro, who has sought to dismantle environmental protections in the country.

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