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Amazon Deforestation Even Worse Than We Thought

This is hugely depressing: Despite the Brazilian government's recent crackdown on illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest, rates of deforestation are booming, with far more acreage clear-cut over the last nine months than were torched over the full year before that. The rates had been especially high in the 1990s, but slowed again in the early '00s, until a gradual uptick began a couple of years ago, culminating in the recent rise. And the year's deforestation is not even close to finished: "The Amazon's dry season, when farmers do most of their burning and clearing, starts this month. That means the 12-month total ending in August will surely climb, said Marcelo Marquesini, a Brazil-based forests expert with the international environmental group Greenpeace."

The deforestation isn't just a problem for the animal and human species living in the Amazon; it has also led to Brazil's status as the world's fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, since the trees, once harvested, are burned, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The New York Times ran a piece in April about "Operation Arc of Fire," the Brazilian government's controversial plan to enforce logging laws with teams of armed soldiers. Since Arc of Fire has only just begun, it's probably too soon to judge whether it's working--but at deforestation's exponential rate, there may not be much time to judge in any case.

--Britt Peterson