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New research has found that a larger part of the Amazon rainforest is at risk of crossing a tipping point where it could become a savanna-type ecosystem than previously thought. In around 40% of the rainforest, rainfall is now at a level where the forest could exist in either state- rainfall or savanna.

Based on computer models and data analysis, the research- published in Nature Communications– shows that parts of the Amazon region are currently receiving less rain than previously and this trend is expected to worsen as the region warms due to rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Rainforests are very sensitive to changes that affect rainfall for extended periods. If rainfall drops below a certain threshold, areas could shift into a savanna state. 

The research team focused on the stability of tropical rainforests in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. They were able to explore how rainforests respond to changing rainfall and simulate the downwind effects of disappearance of forests for all tropical forests. By doing this, they answered two questions: “if all the forests in the tropics disappeared, where would they grow back?” and “what happens if rainforests covered the entire tropical region of Earth?”

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The team ran the simulations starting with no forests in the tropics across Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia and watched forests emerge over time in the models, which allowed them to explore the minimum forest cover for all regions. 

Lead author Arie Staal, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University, says, “The dynamics of tropical forests is interesting. As forests grow and spread across a region this affects rainfall- forests create their own rain because leaves give off water vapour and this falls as rain further downwind. Rainfall means fewer fires leading to even more forests. Our simulations capture this dynamic.”

The team then ran the models a second time, in a world where rainforests entirely covered the tropical regions of Earth. However, in many places there is an insufficient amount of rainfall to sustain a rainforest, so in many places, the model forests shrank due to a lack of moisture. Staal says, “As forests shrink, we get less rainfall downwind and this causes drying leading to more fire and forest loss: a vicious cycle.”

Finally, the team examined what will happen if emissions keep rising this century along a “very high-emissions” scenario used by the IPCC. The team found that as emissions grow, more parts of the Amazon lose their natural resilience, become unstable and more likely to dry out and transform to a savanna-type ecosystem. Even the most resilient parts of the rainforest will shrink. This means that more of the rainforest is likely to cross a tipping point as emissions reach very high levels. 

The conclusion? The smallest area that can sustain a rainforest in the Amazon contracts a substantial 66% in the high-emissions scenario.

Ingo Fetzer of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, says, “We understand now that rainforests on all continents are very sensitive to global change and can rapidly lose their ability to adapt. Once gone, their recovery will take many decades to return to their original state. And given that rainforests host the majority of all global species, all this will be forever lost.”

In comparison, the minimal and maximal extents of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia are relatively stable because their rainfall is more dependent on the ocean around them than on rainfall generated as a result of forest cover.

It is important to note that the study only explored the impacts of the climate crisis on tropical forests; it did not assess the additional stress of deforestation in the tropics due to agricultural expansion and logging. It is possible then that the Amazon may cross a tipping point even sooner because of relentless deforestation in the region, encouraged by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. 

To mitigate deforestation of the Amazon by human impact, international and domestic actors must cooperate to find a solution. While the Bolsonaro administration has made its stance on deforestation and environmental conservation abundantly clear, the country’s decentralised federal governing system allows for a great deal of executive and legislative autonomy for Brazilian states. Individual states can break from the party line, as demonstrated during the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, when states opted to dismiss the President’s recommendations and implement their own ordinances to soften the effects of the virus. Individual states and governors will need to unite behind a common goal of slowing deforestation. Once this happens, international organisations and domestic NGOs could bypass President Bolsonaro’s protectionist policies and deal directly with the states that govern areas at risk of deforestation, by subsidising economic programmes that incentivise illegal loggers to pursue other opportunities.

Featured image by: Flickr 

A court in Brazil has blocked a move by the government to revoke important regulations protecting the country’s vital tropical mangroves. The decision comes just a day after Brazil’s National Environment Council, known as Conama, voted to overturn the protection measures that defined the mangroves as “permanent preservation areas” and prohibited commercial development projects.

Federal judge Maria Amelia Almeida Senos de Carvalho overturned the decision on September 29, saying the repeal violated the constitutional right to an ecologically balanced environment. She said that the move would cause “irretrievable damage to the environment.”

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles defended the move to CNN Brasil, saying that the changes provided greater “balance” to protect the environment. He says, “this government is concerned with the environment, with people and with sustainable economic development. You can’t create legislation that is so excessive that it asphyxiates the economic sector completely.”

Mangroves are vitally important ecosystems in the fight against the climate crisis as they are some of the world’s most effective carbon sinks, capturing more than half of the world’s biological carbon. Additionally, their large root systems protect coastal areas from erosion and besides providing habitats to sea birds, they are called “nursery habitats” because they provide shelter to young fish, crabs and shrimp.

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Greenpeace said that removing the protections for mangroves was “calculated environmental destruction” in Brazil.

The government of Brazil has been widely criticised for its disregard for environmental regulations. In May, a video of a governmental meeting showed Salles, saying that the government should take advantage of the media’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic to loosen the environmental restrictions. He said, “There is a need to have an effort on our side here, while we are at this moment of tranquility in terms of press coverage, because it only talks about COVID, and let the cattle herd run and change all the rules and simplifying standards.” He later claimed that the statements were aimed at reducing bureaucracy.

President Jair Bolsonaro has long rejected criticism of his government’s environmental policy, even as data from his own agency shows that deforestation in the Amazon and the Pantanal has increased. In 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) counted 126 089 fires in the Amazon- a rise of nearly 40% from the year before.

By mid-September, the INPE reported 16 119 heat spots in Pantanal, the most since 1998, when records started. Bolsonaro accused foreigners of a “brutal disinformation campaign” in a pre-recorded address to UN members last week.

A recent study has found that around half of beef exports and almost a quarter of soy exports from Brazil to the EU could be linked to illegal deforestation in two of the country’s most ecologically important regions, the Amazon and Cerraro. This could have detrimental implications for international trade agreements and efforts to combat the climate crisis. 

The study, published in the journal Science, found that 2% of properties in the Amazon and Cerraro are responsible for 62% of illegal deforestation, of which a significant proportion is linked to agricultural exports. “This small but very destructive portion of the sector poses a threat to the economic prospects of Brazil’s agribusiness, in addition to causing regional and global environmental consequences,” the researchers said. 

Cerrado is regarded as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’, marked by savannahs, grasslands, and forests that spans approximately 200 million hectares. Significant proportions of these important ecological areas in Brazil are being cleared to accommodate the global demand for beef by making way for cattle ranches, which are then converted to soy fields with the purpose of feeding livestock or to be exported to other countries.

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The findings demonstrated that about 1.9 million metric tons of soy grown on properties with illegal deforestation reaches EU markets every year- indicating that about 22% of all soy exports from Brazil to the EU could be contaminated. The researchers noted that the true percentage may be higher as their study only covered 80% of the soy plantations, and did not sample the cumulative total.

41% of the EU’s soy imports originate from Brazil, which equates to 13.6 million metric tons per year. Between 25% to 40% of beef imports come directly from properties with illegal deforestation. The study estimates that 12% of the 4.1 million cows traded to slaughterhouses in the states of Para and Mato Grosso in 2017, came from properties potentially engaging in illegal deforestation. 

However, the figure increases to about 50% when considering the suppliers that had indirect contamination with illegal deforestation- such as when a ranch does not deforest but buys cattle from one that does.

In Mato Grosso, contamination of beef exports by illegal deforestation could be as high as 44% in the Amazon and 61% in the Cerrado regions. 

How Did the Researchers Conduct the Investigation?

In order to produce these figures, and draw parallels between illegal deforestation and agricultural exports, the researchers gathered land-use and deforestation data maps for Brazil as well as information on approximately 815 000 rural properties in the Amazon and Cerrado. They also examined cattle transport documents. They then developed software that calculated the level to which each property was complying with environmental and deforestation laws. 


The findings of this study could have extensive implications for how countries confront trade agreements in the future knowing a portion of the imports could be associated with illegal deforestation of the Amazon. 

“International buyers of Brazil’s agricultural commodities have raised concerns about products that are contaminated by deforestation,” the researchers said. “Among the concerns is that increasing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest fires in Brazil could cancel out EU climate change mitigation efforts.”

Global Demand 

The BBC reported that ‘as the global demand for meat soars, and as China turns to Brazil for its supply of soybeans amid the trade war with the US, experts worry that Brazil’s agricultural boom will come at the cost of habitats like the Cerrado and Amazon’. 

The researchers said that “all economic partners of Brazil should share the blame for indirectly promoting deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions by not barring imports and consuming agricultural products contaminated with deforestation, illegal or not.” They further noted that their investigation is an essential stepping stone in pressing Brazil ‘to conserve its environmental assets’ and encourage international efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  

Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest is speeding up. In June 2020, it increased by 10.7% compared to the previous year. The dismantling of environmental protections and president Jair Bolsonaro’s economic policies have set the stage for environmental disaster. The international community needs to pressure Brazil into complying with its climate commitments as the country has an important responsibility in the fight against the climate crisis because of the Amazon, a fight it is currently losing. 

New data from Brazil’s National Space Research Agency (INPE) shows that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose 10.7% in the last month compared to June 2019, marking 14 months of continuous tree and habitat loss.

In the first half of 2020, deforestation had risen by 25% from the same period in 2019, totalling 4 879 sq km

Researchers at the IPAM estimated that deforestation and the fires that have occurred in Brazil’s Amazon over the past six months have emitted 115 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the equivalent of the annual emissions of 25 million cars and a 20% increase over the same period last year.  

Ane Alencar, science director at the Instituo de Pesquia Ambiental de Amazonia (IPAM), stressed that if the Amazon rainforest continues to endure the same trends of deforestation, 2020 will mark the worst year for deforestation in over a decade, with approximately 14 998 sq km of affected forest. 

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What is Being Done?

President Bolsonaro has deployed military in the region to stop illegal land clearing, and has issued a ban on fires in the Amazon region for 120 days from the week of July 13. Whether this would constitute ‘enough action’ to sufficiently protect the Amazon rainforest and combat the deforestation problem has been debated. 

Suely Vaz, the former head of environment regulator at the Brazilian government’s environmental ministry, said, “Control of deforestation isn’t done by sending a lot of inexperienced people to the field.” Vaz stressed that although the army would be able to help, the operations need to be conducted by environmental authorities with appropriate technical planning and intelligence to stop deforestation altogether. 

In recent months, international trade groups, financial institutions and major corporations have urged the President to take steps to stop deforestation. European countries have warned Brazil that it would back out of the USD$19 trillion Union-Mercosur free trade agreement if the country doesn’t do more to protect the Amazon. Further, a letter signed by 29 financial institutions said that the country’s dismantling of environmental policies and indigenous rights are ‘creating widespread uncertainty about the conditions for investing’. 

Rubens Ricupero, Brazil’s former environment minister, stated how the pressure from international investors to act and mitigate the problem should not be overlooked- especially in consideration of post-pandemic infrastructure projects: “right now, there is no investment, from Brazilians or foreigners. But the concern is that as the pandemic begins to weaken, the government will want to revive the economy … and for that the government will need to be able to attract investments from overseas.”

Featured image by: Animal Equality International

The European Commission intends to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To mitigate the climate crisis and meet its targets, the EU has utilised biomass; the biomass feedstock of forestry has become the main source for renewable energy in the EU and is a key part of the European Green Deal. Although the EU nations produce biomass themselves, they have also turned to importing biomass from developing countries, such as Denmark importing from Brazil. While this supports European countries in reaching their environmental goals, what cost does it incur on the environments of developing countries?

In the EU, forestry is the main feedstock (logging, residues, wood chips and fuelwood etc) for bioenergy, accounting for more than 60% of all EU domestic biomass supplied for bioenergy with 96% of biomass produced domestically and 4% imported from non-EU countries, shown below in Figure 1. But to reach environmental targets, several EU countries have subsidised the biomass industry, including Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK, the largest bioenergy consumers.

With this in mind, the European Commission is aiming to conduct a further ‘transformative approach’ to increase their reliance on biomass for renewable energy purposes.

Woody Biomass: A Carbon Neutral Energy Source?

While the burning of forest biomass has been promoted as a cleaner and more renewable alternative to coal and gas, it is believed that biomass is ‘a carbon emission accounting loophole’, which could destabilise the global climate. 

UK-based researchers found last year that burning wood is a ‘disaster’ for climate change as older trees release large amounts of carbon when they are burned and aren’t always replaced and even when they are, it can take up to 100 years to cultivate an area that soaks up as much carbon as was previously released. 

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The Double Standards of Denmark’s Carbon-Neutral Mission

Biomass is the most dominant source of energy in Denmark, embodying more than two thirds of its overall consumption of renewable energy. It represents an important component of Denmark’s mission to make its capital city, Copenhagen, the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Denmark is the second-largest consumer of wood pellets in the EU, using 2.1 million tons in 2018 to generate heat and power with woody biomass usage set to increase by 130% by 2025.

Business with Brazil

Although Denmark is considered the global poster child for renewable energy, driven by its advancements in onshore and offshore wind power, the Danish energy supplier, Hovedstadens Forsyningsselskab (Hofor), has been denounced for wood chip biomass feedstock importations. These imports, approximately 60 000 tons of wood chips since mid-November, originate from Brazil’s eucalyptus plantations in the state of Amapá and are used within the Copenhagen biomass plant of BIO4. The biomass feedstock is produced by AMCEL, a large Brazilian pulp company. 

However, these importations of Brazilian wood chips are facing strong condemnation for not being sustainable biomass, deriving instead from monoculture plantations aimed at producing cheap raw materials while stimulating economic growth. Additionally, AMCEL has been involved in illegal land grabbing and deforestation within these specific eucalyptus plantations. 

Biomass in Developing Countries: The Amazon for Sale

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has increased rapidly since the hard-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office. The pro-development president once stated, “deforestation and fires will never end.” From August 2018 to July 2019, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest rose 34.4% from a year before, to 10 129 sq kms. Furthermore, between January and April of 2020, the destruction of the forest by illegal loggers and ranchers rose 55% compared to the same four month period last year. It appears that criminal organisations have expanded their operations, as bulldozer sales doubled in Brazil within this four month period. This increase in deforestation activity comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic strains Brazil politically and economically, exacerbating Bolsonaro’s government policies to expand the commercial development of the Amazon rainforest, enabling illegal loggers and miners to face minimal risk of punishment.

While illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers have directly contributed to the increase of deforestation, Bolsonaro is arguably responsible. When he was running for president, it was his rhetoric that suggested deforestation-related practices in the Amazon could help lift the country out of poverty at the expense of indigenous people. “The Indigenous person can’t remain in his land as if he were some prehistoric creature as where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it,” he said in February.

It is this attitude that has made it easier for foreign countries to take advantage of the paper and biomass opportunities afforded by the Amazon. Encouraging developing countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, to cut down their own forests and export their unsustainably harvested wood to meet foreign demand for bioenergy while developed countries protect their own forests is unfair and irresponsible. 

Phasing Out Biomass

While the importation of woody biomass from developing countries is legal, methods used to cultivate biomass feedstock are arguably unethical. Denmark, an apparent global renewable energy role model, should be held accountable for acquiring biomass feedstock from dubious feedstock sources in Brazil, a developing country with an important responsibility to protect the Amazon but which has a president that promised to exploit the Amazon. This showcases how developed countries, such as Denmark, aim to expand their green capacities at the cost of developing countries’ environmental health.

Furthermore, biomass as a reliable energy feedstock remains ambiguous. Unless we can guarantee forest regrowth to carbon parity, recent research indicates that the production of wood pellets for fuel is likely to put more CO2 in the atmosphere and maintain less biodiversity on the land during the next several decades.

If EU countries continue to use biomass to reach their climate goals, they must either closely examine its origins, or phase out all land-based biofuels and devote greater efforts to promoting sustainable renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal processes. 

Featured image by: photoheuristic.info

Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest increased for the fourteenth consecutive month according to data released this month by the Brazilian government. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is currently pacing 83% ahead of where it was a year ago.

Amazon Rainforest’s Deforestation Rate

Data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 830 square kilometers (sq km) of rainforest was cleared in the “Legal Amazon” during the month of May, bringing the total clearing since the August 1 to 6,437 sq km, an area larger than Delaware or Palestine. Brazil tracks deforestation based on a year that runs from August 1 to July 31.

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amazon deforestation
A graph showing deforestation in the Amazon from January to April in 2009 to 2020 (Source: Mongabay via INPE).

Since January 1, deforestation in the region has amounted to 2,033 sq km, compared with 1,454 sq km through the first five months of 2019, an increase of 40%.

Independent analysis by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, tracks roughly inline with what is being reported officially by the government.

The new data was released two days after INPE revised its official 2019 estimate for Amazon deforestation upwards to 10,129 sq km, marking the first time forest clearing in the region has topped 10,000 sq km since 2008. Deforestation is also trending upward in other Amazon countries, according to data from the University of Maryland (UMD) and World Resources Institute (WRI).

Effects of Deforestation in the Amazon

The rise in deforestation troubles scientists who fear that the combination of forest loss and the effects of climate change could trigger the Amazon rainforest to tip toward a drier ecosystem which is more prone to fire, generates less local and regional rainfall, sequesters less carbon from the atmosphere, and is less hospitable to species adapted to the dense and humid forests of lowland Amazonia. The impacts on local and regional economies that depend on precipitation from the Amazon could be devastating, depriving agricultural areas, hydroelectric dams, and cities across South America of water. There are already signs of sustained drying trends in the Amazon portending what may lie ahead.

Near term, the high level of deforestation through the first few months of 2020 means the year is shaping up to have a bad fire season. Typically trees are cut after the rainy season subsides in April or May. Burning normally peaks during the dry season from July through October, but this year burning is already underway: earlier this week researchers at the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reported on the first major Amazon fire of 2020. The data thus suggests 2020 could be a particularly dire year for the Amazon.

Featured image by: Matt Zimmerman

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Rhett A. Butler, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe and is showing little sign of dissipating, with fresh outbreaks being reported in Latin America, including Brazil. Now, health experts are saying that rampant deforestation, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon, could bring about a new pandemic.

Since it arrived in Brazil, COVID-19 has divided the nation. One side calls for strict social isolation measures to contain the virus, while the other says that everyone should get back to work now, except for the elderly and most vulnerable.

These conflicting views are evident even in the heart of the government. President Jair Bolsonaro in a recent television broadcast declared that hysteria has gripped the country over a disease that he calls “no worse than a mild flu.” His Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, disputes that, telling Brazilians to stay home.

Misinformation is rife. Rumors proliferate on social media, particularly regarding the number of deaths, while the government discredits the mainstream press, as it tries to report the rapidly developing pandemic and inform the public.

This scenario is not new. Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro and his administration have smeared scientists trying to alert the population over the risks of global warming, or critical of the undermining of federal environmental regulations and agencies. In the first half of 2019, there were conflicting reports within the government itself and among scientists and NGOs about the scale and seriousness of deforestation and, later in the year, regarding the extent of Amazon fires and their close link to major forest clearing.

However, behind all this raucous debate, it is becoming clear to experts that COVID-19 and deforestation in the Amazon could be linked — both being products of the natural and human devastation brought by an invasion of the world’s remaining forests through the rapid expansion of timber harvesting, mineral extraction, industrial agribusiness and transportation infrastructure.

Even as the outbreak of COVID-19 is being possibly linked to the wildlife trade and humanity’s destruction of biodiversity, researchers say that the growing momentum of Amazon deforestation is creating conditions for the eruption of future pandemics.

Indeed, there are signs that this may already be happening.

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Deforestation Roars Ahead, Risking Rise of New Diseases

In 2019, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached its highest level in ten years (9,762 square kilometers, or 3,769 square miles). Importantly, in protected indigenous reserves, it increased even faster, expanding by 74 percent in 2019 under Bolsonaro as compared to 2018. Amazon deforestation rates continue escalating in 2020, doubling from August 2019 to March 2020, compared with the same period in 2018-19.

That’s not only bad news for wildlife and indigenous peoples. It is well understood among scientists that major deforestation can lead to the emergence of dangerous new viruses and bacteria against which humanity has little defense, leading to epidemics and pandemics.

“Wild vertebrates, particularly rodents, bats and primates, harbor pathogens that are novel to the human immune system and, if we clear their habitat and put ourselves in closer contact with them, we can increase the risk that a spillover event occurs, introducing a novel pathogen,” Andy MacDonald, an ecologist specializing in disease at the Institute of Geosciences at the University of California, told Mongabay.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at University College London (UCL), part of London University, says that researchers have long known that animal-borne infectious diseases are an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.” In 2008, she was part of a research team that determined that at least 60% of the 335 new diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004 originated with non-human animals.

One of the principal drivers of this transfer of diseases from wild animals to humans occurs as the result of habitat disturbance — especially the disruption of tropical forests.

“Approximately one in three outbreaks of new and emerging illnesses is linked to changes in land use, like deforestation,” explained Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a not-for-profit organization based in New York. Daszak was lead author in a study entitled “Infectious disease emergence and economics of altered landscapes” published last year. That paper notes that “diseases causally linked to land change use include deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and Zika Virus.” Preliminary research indicates we can now likely add COVID-19 to that list — the most devastating pandemic to strike humanity since the 1918-19 flu which killed upwards of 50 million people.

One way deforestation leads to the emergence of new diseases is through fire. In mid-August 2019, a group of international experts on zoonotic diseases (that is, illnesses transmitted from animals to humans), met in Colombia to analyze the impact of the wildfires then underway in the Amazon. In their statement, they warned: “The Amazon region of Brazil, endemic for many communicable or zoonotic diseases can, after a wildfire, trigger a selection for survival, and with it change the habitat and behaviors of some animal species. These can be reservoirs of zoonotic bacteria, viruses, and parasites.”

This wildfire scenario has already played out elsewhere. In 1988, huge fires in Indonesia created conditions allowing the emergence of the Nipah virus, which has a morbidity rate of between 40% and 70%. Researchers believe that the outbreak of fires there caused fruit bats to flee their forest homes, seeking food in orchards. Then pigs ate the fruit that the bats had nibbled, becoming infected with the virus, ultimately infecting local people, who began to die from brain hemorrhages. Amazon fires are expected to grow far worse, as agribusiness uses it as a tool to clear rainforest, and as climate change intensifies drought there.

Fever Follows in Wake of Environmental Ruin

In fact, there are already Brazilian examples of a major environmental disruption provoking disease. One such incident concerns the bursting of the Mariana iron mining tailings dam on the Doce River in Minas Gerais state in 2015, which killed 19 people and was regarded at the time as the most serious environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.

Biologist Márcia Chame, from Fiocruz, a foundation specializing in the science and technology of health, believes that a major surge in yellow fever cases in Minas Gerais in 2016-17, leading to the state government decreeing a state of emergency, was partly the result of the disaster which polluted 500 miles of river all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Chame argues that the bursting of the dam, which led to “an avalanche of 2.2 billion cubic feet of mud and mine waste,” pouring into the Doce River, severely affected animals in the surrounding watershed, making them less resistant to disease.

“An abrupt change in the environment will have an impact on animals, including monkeys. With the stress of the disaster and the lack of food, they become more susceptible to illnesses, including yellow fever.” Chame says that many monkeys in the Doce watershed fell ill with yellow fever. Those monkeys were then bitten by mosquitoes, who in turn bit humans, bringing the disease to the region’s towns. According to her, mosquitoes — particularly Haemagogus leucocelaenus and H. janthinomys — were “driven by landscape modifications, with forest fragments running in peri-urban areas, allowing enough interaction [between monkeys, mosquitos and people] to produce such an epidemic.”

Similar processes may well be underway in the Amazon, though going mostly unexamined and undetected. A study published last year, entitled “Development, environmental degradation and disease spread in the Brazilian Amazon” concluded that “too little attention has focused on the emergence and reemergence of vector-borne diseases that directly impact the local population, with spillover effects on other neighboring areas.”

Severe forest disturbance is already known to contribute to the expansion of known diseases like malaria, says MacDonald. “The primary mosquito vector in Latin America does really well in recently cleared patches of forest, on the margins of the remaining forest (where there is more standing water for breeding, higher temperatures which can facilitate faster development of the mosquito and malaria parasite, as well as increase human biting rates). With people settled in these cleared patches… it can increase malaria transmission.”

Comparing satellite images and health data, MacDonald, together with Erin Mordecai from Stanford University, determined that deforestation in the whole of the Amazon Basin has helped lead to a significant increase in malaria. MacDonald told Mongabay that the research team calculated that in 2008 a 10% rise in deforestation, that is, about 1,600 square kilometers (618 square miles) of additional forest cut, led to a 3.3% increase in malaria transmission. That amounted to an additional 9,980 cases across the region.

Bolsonaro Paves the Way for More Deforestation

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Brazilian Congress now stands ready to vote, turning a temporary 120-day Provisional Measure decreed by Bolsonaro in December 2019, into permanent law. Provisional Measure (MP) 910, instead of curbing illegal land invasions, rewards land grabbers who illegally felled forest on public lands in Amazonia before December 2018 — regularizing their illegal occupation by allowing the purchase of the property at greatly reduced prices, turning it from public to private. Essentially, the measure allows land grabbers to break the law and get away with it.

According to a technical note issued by the not-for-profit organization, IMAZON, the MP could lead to the deforestation of up to 16,000 square kilometers (6,178 square miles) by 2027, an area ten times larger than the area that led to an increase of nearly ten thousand new cases of malaria in the MacDonald study.

Under the present terms of MP 910, authorities are not required to check the validity of any claim made by a potential landowner for properties under 2,500 hectares (6,166 acres) in size — a stipulation that supposedly benefits small-scale farmers.

But Amazon land grabbers are extremely skilled at bypassing such regulatory limits. One very common practice is to utilize laranjas (literally oranges, but more accurately, stooges). The big landowners get relatives, friends or employees to register a small plot in their names, avoiding federal oversight. Later, the laranjas hand the property over to the land grabber, sometimes in exchange for a small payment.

If a landowner employs 20 laranjas, each registering a plot of 2,500 hectares (6,166 acres), he ends up with a property of 50,000 hectares (111,000 acres). Another worrying consequence is that land grabbers can seize land occupied by indigenous communities who lack deeds, as is happening with the Sateré-Mawe indigenous group in Amazonas state.

MP 910 also allows those who have already benefited from the regularization of invaded public lands, but who have sold that property, to join the queue again requesting a new plot. Although she recognizes the need to sort out the current anarchy over landownership in the Amazon, Suely Araujo, former president of IBAMA, the government’s environmental agency, is critical of the MP. “With this flexibility, and without separating big landowners from small ones, this law legalizes those who live from land invasion, deforestation and the sale of public land,” she told Mongabay.

On March 27, Minister Alexandre Moraes, a member of the Federal Supreme Court, Brazil’s court of last resort, issued a preliminary ruling for facilitating the approval of Provisional Measures. Even though the intention is to fast-track urgent measures during the COVID-19 crisis, environmentalists fear that the ruralist lobby will take advantage of this new procedure to push ahead more energetically with their agenda. “If there isn’t a political decision to withdraw MP 910 from the measures to be voted through, we run the risk of a serious environmental reverse during this [health] crisis,” warned Araújo.

Greater Risks Ahead

Even as Brazilian deforestation rates soar, and land use laws in the Amazon basin are undermined, indigenous peoples across Latin America are trying to draw attention to the gravity of the global environmental crisis, which they believe caused the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Coronavirus is telling the world what indigenous peoples have been saying for thousands of years — if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, we will face this, and even worse threats,” said Levi Sucre Romero, an indigenous man from Costa Rica at a press conference organized by Covering Climate Now in New York City in mid-March.

Another indigenous leader at that meeting, Dinamam Tuxá, coordinator of APIB (the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil), was just as vehement: “The cure for the next pandemic, and even for this one, can be found in the biodiversity in our indigenous lands,” he argued. “This is why we need to protect our lands and rights, because the future of life depends on it.” In contrast, Bolsonaro is pushing legislation through Congress that would allow large-scale mining, oil and gas drilling, and industrial agribusiness within Brazil’s indigenous reserves, largely without input from the people living there.

Experts continue warning urgently that more pandemics lie ahead. “I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences, told Scientific American. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

John Scott, head of Sustainability Risk with the Zurich Insurance Group, referring to the Ebola, SARS, MERS, and other recent epidemics, offers a similar message: “The past 20 years of disease outbreaks could be viewed as a series of near-miss catastrophes, which have led to complacency rather than the increased vigilance necessary to control outbreaks.”

Climate Change, Deforestation, Successive Pandemics

Scientists were not startled by the COVID-19 pandemic; they’d been warning the world about such an event for decades. Similarly, many won’t be surprised if the much neglected climate crisis reaches a point of no return, with far more serious impacts for the world — including massive Amazon tree die off and huge atmosphere-destabilizing carbon releases, driven not only by policies favorable to land grabbers, but due to a drastic decline in Amazon rainfall and an increase in fires. Indeed, many say that these multiple crises are intertwined.

One great challenge of the post-COVID-19 world will require that civilization somehow recover from the global economic recession (or depression) it causes without further aggravating the climate crisis via the mass conversion of forests to gold, zinc and bauxite mines, or to cattle ranches and soy plantations. The danger: if tropical deforestation continues out of control, we may barely recover from one pandemic before being faced by another.

The next plague could arise nearly anywhere: in the increasingly disrupted Amazon, the Congo, Indonesia, or even far beyond the tropical zone, in the Arctic, where permafrost is melting rapidly, possibly thawing out unknown and dormant viruses that could unleash the next planetwide health crisis. In this sense, COVID-19 — horrific as its outcomes could be — may only be a harbinger of far worse pandemics to come.

Featured image by: quapan

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Thais Borges and Sue Branford, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org. 

Imagine starting out the year having to pay your property taxes, your car taxes or any other taxes. Imagine getting to the supermarket and receiving a 40% discount on shampoo and 30% on tomato sauce. Imagine being able to take out a bank loan with interest well below that of the market. This is more or less what companies that manufacture and sell pesticides operate in Brazil, protected by a package of benefits that, counting just tax exemptions and reductions, add up to nearly R$10 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) every year, according to an unprecedented study carried out by ABRASCO, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health, executed by researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz foundation and the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro.

The amount that the Brazilian government fails to collect because of tax exemptions on pesticides is nearly four times as much as the Ministry of the Environment’s total budget this year (R$2.7 billion, or US$ 600 milllion) and more than double what the nation’s national health system [SUS] spent to treat cancer patients in 2017 (R$4.7 billion, or US$ 1 billion).

“Our study clearly showed that it’s time for society to begin to reflect on subsidies for pesticides. First, because we are in the middle of a fiscal crisis in which many sectors are re-evaluating subsidies. But mostly because of the high amount the State is unable to levy,” affirms study coauthor, Wagner Soares, economist and graduate level professor in the Sustainable Development Practices program at UFRRJ.

The “pesticide grant” even includes public funding in the millions for transnational giants in the sector. The study carried out by Repórter Brasil and Agência Pública shows that over the last 14 years the BNDES (Brazilian National Development Bank) granted loans of R$ 358.3 million (US$ 80 million) to companies in the sector (interest was also subsidized by the government). They also found that FINEP (the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Funding Authority for Studies and Projects) transferred R$ 390 million (US$ 86 million) to large pesticide manufacturers for research and development.

The investments and maintenance of the exemptions contradict promises made by Minister of the Economy Paulo Guedes that fiscal incentives would be reviewed  in order to reduce the deficit on government balance sheets. During the 2018 presidential campaign (when President Jair Bolsonaro was elected), Guedes proposed up to 20% cuts in exemptions. The proposed scenarios include reintroducing taxation on food given out in the cesta básica [basket of basics] federal food distribution program. When asked if it intends to review the tax waivers, the Ministry of the Economy did not respond.

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Brazil pesticides
A worker spraying pesticides on crops (Source: Pixabay).

Supreme Court Queries

The exemptions and other benefits granted the pesticides sector are a point of question among those who keep a watch on the Brazilian public budget. “It is as if you lived in a condominium and your neighbor didn’t have to pay the condominium fees. And that they got the pool dirty, and the shared gym space, generating costs for everyone else. These benefits give large agribusiness companies a break while throwing the cost back on society,” explains Marcelo Novaes, São Paulo State public defender, who has investigated the issue for years.

The fiscal waivers are upheld by laws implemented decades ago that consider pesticides as fundamental for Brazil’s development and that for this reason, need stimulus—as is provided for the cesta básica [basket of basics] federal food distribution program.

But this scenario of benefits for pesticide manufacturers could change starting February 19, when the Federal Supreme Court (STF) decides on a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADI 5553) questioning the logic of considering pesticides fundamental for the nation’s development. The Action compares pesticides with products like cigarettes, considered harmful to health and which generate costs that are paid by the entire population—and for which reason are subject to extra taxes instead of tax breaks.

The comparison with cigarettes—where up to 80% of the price is composed of taxes—is precise according to Professor Andrei Cechin from the Economics department at the Universidade de Brasília (UnB). “Cigars are bad for those who smoke them, and smokers will rely on SUS [public health system] to treat them for resulting illnesses. This cost comes back on society, because the population pays for SUS. So high taxes on cigarettes are justifiable,” explains the professor.

The same logic holds for pesticides, says Cechin, because the costs of treatments for contamination cases are also paid by SUS, justifying extra taxation for the sector: “But instead, we give them exemptions and even foment farming with pesticides.” The Ministry of the Economy has already endorsed extra taxation for cigarettes and alcohol, called “the sin tax”. However, no such word has come out about pesticides.

In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office emitted a statement about the Direct Action of Unconstitutionality in which then-Attorney General Raquel Dodge defends the unconstitutionality of granting tax benefits and exemptions for pesticides, as the “international constitutional order shows concern with the use of agrochemicals, imposing severe restrictions on production, registration, marketing and handling, with a view to protecting the environment, health and, above all, workers.”

In addition to whether or not they fall under the legislation, economist Cechin also warns that, as with cigarettes, more money is spent on treating pesticide poisonings than on purchasing the product itself. A study published in Saúde Pública magazine reveals that for every US$ 1 spent on the purchase of pesticides in the state of Paraná, US$ 1.28 is spent on the SUS public health program for the treatment of acute intoxications poisonings—those that occur immediately after application. The calculation left out spending on chronic diseases, those that appear over time due to constant exposure to pesticides, such as cancer.

2.2 Billion Dollars a Year

Even in the face of pesticides’ impact on the  health of the population and the environment, companies ceased to pay nearly R$ 10 billion (US$ 2 billion) in federal and state taxes in 2017—and the ones that most failed to collect were the states, according to the study “ “Tax incentive policy for pesticides in Brazil is unjustifiable and unsustainable” by ABRASCO, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health.

Renouncement of only the ICMS (VAT on goods and services) waiver in the state of Rio Grande do Sul would be generate enough to cover over half of the state budget in 2017. In the state of Mato Grosso, the amount would represent 66% of the entire state health budget.

State ICMS tax exemptions, which were introduced in 1997, account for the largest slice of the exoneration pie, with 63% of the total; it is followed by the IPI (tax on Industrialized Products) with 16.5%; the PIS/PASEP and COFINS (Federal Unemployment and Social Security funding contributions) with 15.6% and, lastly, the II Importation Tax with 4.8%, according to the ABRASCO study, also signed by Marcelo Firpo, FIOCRUZ National School of Public Health researcher and by environmental scientist Lucas Neves da Cunha.

According to the authors, the thesis that reducing the value of pesticides is necessary to maintain the price of food doesn’t hold up. “It would be more reasonable to subsidize not the use of pesticides, but directly the consumption of food,” concludes the study, which considered pesticide-related expenses reported by rural producers in the 2017 2017 Agricultural Census.

Buddy Loans

Although direct federal investment to the sector amounts to considerably less than the tax exemptions, it is noteworthy that the giant pesticide producers benefit the most. Between 2005 and 2019, the federal government invested R$ 749 million (US$ 165 million) through BNDES and FINEP in 18 pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Ourofino and Dow Agrosciences (today Corteva).

Of the resources invested in research in the entire pharmaceutical industry since 2005, pesticide manufacturer Ourofino was the third most benefited, behind only Hypera Pharma and Aché, which produce medicines for human health. Manufacturer of more than 30 pesticide products including glyphosate and fipronil, the company received R$ 334.6 million (US$ 74 million) in public resources for their pesticides and agricultural research divisions. Ourofino had not responded to inquiries for comment when this article was concluded.

FINEP, on the other hand, recognizes direct financing in pesticides, but also says it selects projects that seek to replace pesticides with biological products and supports “innovative projects with the premise of increasing their efficiency.” See FINEP’s full response here. The BNDES (Development Bank) did not comment.

More Expensive Food?

Entities representing the pesticide industry argue that suspending tax exemptions for the sector would lead to higher food prices and lead to inflation.

“The end of the benefit will impact the prices of inputs and, consequently, increase the cost of the cesta básica. The exemption, therefore, is much more beneficial to society than to industries,” says Christian Lohbauer, president of CropLife Brasil, an association that represents pesticide-producing companies such as BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta.

According to APROSOJA (Brazilian Soy Producers’ Association), the end of tax benefits would increase production costs. “Part of the Brazilian production of grains, fruits, fibers and vegetables would be rendered unfeasible, because when computing the tax increase in the costs of agricultural pesticides, added to the cost of transportation logistics, climatic risks and other taxes and contributions from the sector, many inland regions would no longer be viable,” was the written statement.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply informed that it will wait for the decision of the STF to manifest itself. The National Agriculture Confederation (CNA) declined to comment. Meanwhile the National Association of the Vegetal Defense Products Industry (SINDIVEG) stated that “taxation would increase food costs and reduce the competitiveness of Brazilian products on the international market.” See the full statements of the Association, of Croplife and of APROSOJA.

For economist Cechi from UnB, it is difficult to affirm that reducing pesticide industry benefits would be felt at Brazilian tables, as a large part is used for commodities like soybean and not food items.

“Pesticides are used mainly in non-food crops, that is, commodities whose prices are set by the international market. It is not the producers who choose the price. If the benefits are lost, producers will have to spend more on pesticides, meaning a lower profit margin. The impact [of the reduction in benefits] would be for agribusiness companies.”

Soybean plantations were the destination for 52% of all agrochemical sales in Brazil in 2015. Corn and sugar cane ranked second, with 10% each, followed by cotton, with 7%. These four agricultural commodities alone represented 79% of the pesticide used in the country, according to data from SINDIVEG.

The “pesticide grant” is more controversial if one considers that Brazil is the world’s largest consumer of pesticides in terms of value, and that the sector grew 190% between 2000 and 2010, while on the global market this number was 93%. In addition, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government approved a  record number of these products in 2019, benefiting mainly multinationals.

All this within the context where there is a market concentration that, in the view of public defender Marcelo Novaes, harms public coffers, since without competition, companies can manipulate prices and increase their profits. “We are dominated by five large multinationals—Syngenta, Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, Corteva (ex-Dow) and DuPont—who rule over everything because they own 80% of the sector,” says Novaes, who denounced what he considers to be an oligopoly at the Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE).

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Mariana Della Barba, Diego Junqueira and Pedro Grigori, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org. 


Biofuels are hailed as a solution to our dependence on fossil fuels, emitting less harmful particulates and being renewable as long as their sources keep growing. A study evaluating corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel found that compared to their fossil fuel counterparts, ethanol fuels emit 12% less greenhouse gas per unit consumed and 41% less for biodiesel; if implemented widely, there is potential for dramatic reductions in our emissions. But is it too good to be true?

How are biofuels made?

Currently, biofuel production mainly revolves around the production of biodiesel, obtained through extracting methyl esters from vegetable oils and animal fats; and ethanol, obtained by extracting sugars and starch from plant material. The use of biofuels has gained popularity in countries such as Brazil, where it represents 25% of the fuel demand of the countries’ road transport. Indeed, biofuels have gained the most popularity within the transport sector, with key advantages being its ease of integration with current infrastructure and vehicles. Biodiesel can be adopted by existing biodiesel engines without needing new adaptations, while fuels with lower ethanol content can be used in most petrol engines. As of 2018, biofuels account for 3% of transport fuel demand globally, expected to rise to 9% by 2030.

Biofuels also see potential expansion into the aviation industry, an industry which has historically been completely reliant on crude oil, accounting for 5.8% of global oil consumption and 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has pledged a net reduction in aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, which it aims to do by introducing low-carbon fuels. Some airlines such as Delta Airlines, which has committed $1 billion USD towards becoming carbon neutral, have also begun investing in biofuel. Today’s aviation biofuel development is fairly limited, only accounting for 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption, with only 5 airports around the world offering regular distribution, but with the level of investment and IATA’s commitments this is likely to grow in the future.

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Disadvantages of Biofuels

The rising demand and adoption of biofuels could bode well for the planet’s emissions, especially with major pollutants such as the aviation industry making the change. However, some have argued completely the opposite in that this growing demand for biofuels would increase total emissions instead, as valuable carbon sinks would be lost to deforestation. Today, ethanol and biodiesel production depend heavily upon growing key ‘energy crops’, such as sugar cane, soy beans and oil palms, which require large amounts of land. Soy, along with rapeseed, also have low energy returns, generating only 500-1000 litres of biodiesel per hectare, requiring even more land for the process to generate returns. 

As of 2011, 11.8% of Brazil’s total cultivable area was dedicated towards growing these energy crops for biofuels, constituting 8.82 million hectares, an area roughly twice the size of Switzerland. In the absence of land however, the most popular method is simply to clear existing forests in order to make space to grow crops. This, coupled with the increase in demand from the transport and aviation sectors, is likely to result in huge swathes of tropical rainforest being cleared to make space for growing energy crops. These changes in land use generate ‘indirect emissions’ due to the loss of a carbon sink to offset emissions, and also in the destructive processes used to clear the vegetation, especially slash-and-burn agricultural practices. 

In particular, this could also see the expansion of the palm oil industry, used for biodiesel; which has been labelled by Rainforest Foundation Norway as an ‘ongoing environmental catastrophe’ due to its rapid expansion and increase of indirect land use emissions. Although palm oil yields the highest energy returns for every hectare planted, it is estimated that it would take 70 years for a mature palm plantation producing biodiesel to repay its carbon debt, and 110 years without methane storage. The European Commission further estimates palm oil biodiesel generates a carbon footprint three times larger than their fossil fuel counterparts, due to the changes in land use its production generates.

So how environmentally sustainable are biofuels really? It is rather our near-insatiable needs instead of the biofuels themselves that are making forests go up in smoke, as farmers scramble to make room for energy crops to meet our demand. Large-scale biofuel production inevitably encourages the destructive processes that commercial agriculture use to generate their immense yields of crops, potentially offsetting any good that using biofuels as a fossil fuel replacement can generate.

Despite this, biofuels could remain a viable future option. Algae as a source for biofuels is gaining popularity; by harvesting oils and lipids from them in a similar process to biodiesels, or extracting sugars to create ethanol fuels. Algenol, a biotech company in the US, has developed processes to produce ethanol, gasoline, jet and diesel fuel from algae for $1.30 USD a gallon, with an estimated 69% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. 

The main advantage here is that algae does not require land to grow and can even be grown in wastewater, eliminating the risk of deforestation. However, algal fuels remain a relatively new technology, currently with the lowest energy yields among biofuels. Significant investment and time would be needed, with Exxon pulling their $600 million investment into algal fuels due to the fact that it would take an estimated 25 years for it to be commercially viable. 

The more pressing issue at hand is to manage our demand and the reckless techniques employed by large-scale agriculture in order to meet them. The development of new sources and technologies such as algae show that biofuels hold great potential in meeting our future energy demands sustainably, but considerable management is needed in order to prevent them from doing more harm than good.

Featured image by: United Soybean Board

The surge in fires that tore through the Amazon rainforest this year made headlines around the world and stirred up controversy for the Brazilian government. However, another environmental disaster- the third that Brazil has experienced this year- has been affecting the country’s coastline: a mysterious oil spill whose origin is still unclear. 

Since August, oil has been washing up on the northeastern shores of Brazil with little explanation from the authorities. The president, Jair Bolsonaro, first pointed the finger at neighbouring Venezuela and later suggested that it was an act of terrorism initiated by Greenpeace. Conflicting reports continue to emerge, with the blame being put on both Greek and Marshall Islands-flagged tankers.

Brazil Oil Spill Cause

‘Bilge dumping’ (when cargo vessels and tankers illegally dump oily “bilge water” into the ocean) could be the cause of the oil spill, but authorities in Brazil say that this is unlikely. The government has been criticised for its disaster response, having failed to implement contingency plans until October.

While the blame game rages on, the oil spill has continued to pollute shorelines. As of November, 2 500 kms of tropical Brazilian beaches have been stained, more than a third of the total length of Brazil’s coast (7 367 km according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).  

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Based on maps of the pollution created by locals and IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), the oil spill has stained beaches in Praia de Flamengo, Piatã and Boca do Rio (among others), as well as 123 cities, including Salvador, Lauro de Freitas and Esplanada. 14 natural reserves and parks are also among the affected areas. 

Brazil Oil Production

The country’s production of oil and natural gas increased in 2019 compared to the previous year and a record-breaking August saw oil production reach 2.989 million barrels per day, up 18.5% from August 2018, while natural gas production rose 25.3% from August 2018 to 133.3 million cubic meters per day. 

While this increased production will no doubt boost the oil industry (the resource contributes 7% to the country’s GDP), ecosystems and local communities should be considered. Fishermen are especially affected, given that their main economic activity is reliant on the sea; sales of seafood have fallen sharply because of potential oil contamination. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply conducted a study of fish in the affected areas. It identified two fish samples with values above the levels of health concern as defined by the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), while another 66 fish, shrimp and lobster samples analysed so far have results below these levels. The study noted that there is a risk of contamination ‘only if there is continuous consumption of the same product at these levels for several years’. It is therefore perhaps too early to determine the effects this incident will have on the consumption of fish from the affected areas.

Researchers point out that, in addition to the visible impact that the spill has had on beaches, mangroves and estuaries, traces of oil have been found in animals including shellfish, birds and fish. IBAMA has reported that of 151 oiled animals that have so far been recovered from affected areas, 106 have died. Further impacts on wildlife include asphyxiation, a reduction in fish larvae being fertilised and disturbances in food chains. 

The coral reefs in the areas of impact have also been affected. Experts say that this is the worst disaster in history for Brazilian corals; the reefs were hit as they were recovering from unprecedented bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures that led to 90% of one species dying. Greenpeace explains that coral reefs are affected by decomposing oil, which increases the resource’s density and causes between 10% and 30% of it to be absorbed by sediments and suspended materials, often settling into corals. 

Local communities have taken action to clean up the spill in light of government inaction. However, compounds found in fuel oil can be inhaled without proper protection and are volatile. These compounds (benzene, toluene and xylene) are highly carcinogenic and acute intoxication can cause nausea and headaches. Some volunteers have been hospitalised due to toxin exposure. 

The government of Brazil needs to implement corrective and proactive measures to prevent an accident like this oil spill from happening again or the region will continue to suffer. Unfortunately, this looks to be unlikely as the government has dismantled environmental laws and agencies meant to safeguard the environment and the economy, including reducing the number of fines given for illegal deforestation and essentially dismantling IBAMA. Continuing to behave without regard for the planet will render the most vulnerable inhabitants defenceless against the onslaught of climate change and harmful actions by humans. 

Featured image by: Wikimedia

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