2019 was the highest loss in Brazilian rainforest in a decade, and stark evidence of just how badly the Amazon, an important buffer against global warming, has fared in Brazil’s first year under President Jair Bolsonaro. He has vowed to open the rainforest to industry and scale back its protections, and his government has followed through, cutting funds and staffing to weaken the enforcement of environmental laws. In the absence of federal agents, waves of loggers, ranchers and miners moved in, emboldened by the president and eager to satisfy global demand.Around 2014, Brazil started sliding into a deep recession, and deforestation began to rise as ranchers and loggers searched for new land to exploit. The Amazon, relied on for centuries for rubber trees, minerals and fertile land, was the obvious place to go. Agribusiness, always a force in Brazil, gained even more economic and political power: It now represents nearly a quarter of the country’s G.D.P., and the Amazon region supports soybean farms, gold and iron ore mines and ranches holding more than 50 million cattle.The fires turned into a major diplomatic crisis for Mr. Bolsonaro, pitting him against a global backlash of politicians, celebrities and popular opinion. France threatened to block a major trade deal, and Norway and Germany halted donations to protect the rainforest. After initially remaining defiant, Mr. Bolsonaro mobilized the military to tackle the flames and issued a decree banning fires in the Amazon for 60 days. I documented for two months this sad episode in the history of the Amazon rainforest and global climate change on a special assignment for The New York Times.


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