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Amazonian Dystopia

The Amazon rainforest is often referred to the "lungs of the earth", absorbing tonnes of carbon dioxide and in turn producing some 20% of the earth's oxygen. It is also the most biodiverse region on the planet, home to some three million species of plants and animals. Three fifth of this priceless natural habitat lie within the borders of Brazil.

Yet just as the threat of climate change is starting to be taken more seriously by world leaders, exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon continues unabated, with logging, mining and hydroelectric power generation the main drivers of environmental degradation. This process has been accelerated by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing former army captain, who has little time for environmentalists and has expressed doubts about the incontrovertible evidence of global warming. His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, has dubbed climate change a 'plot' by 'cultural marxists' to stifle western economies and empower China.

Over the course of the Bolsonaro presidency, destruction of the Amazon rainforest has increased sharply as environmental policies have been dismantled, funding has been cut from enforcement agencies and environmental charities have been hobbled by the government. Shortly after taking office, Bolsonaro passed control of the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to the Agriculture Ministry, giving large scale agribusiness a clear advantage over the concerns of Brazil's many indigenous tribes. Instead of letting IBAMA, the country's environment agency, carry on with its work of monitoring illegal logging in the Amazon, the government sent 2,500 troops from the national army to the region to enforce regulations, a move environmental groups dismiss as window dressing.

Bolsonaro has called for farming and mining to be increased in protected areas in the Amazon, arguing that this could help lift deprived regions out of poverty. Yet while nine out of 10 municipalities with the lowest humans development indexes in Brazil are in the Amazon region little, if any, of the money generated by mining and logging ends up being reinvested in the locally. For the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, a vast hydroelectric project on the Xingu river completed in 2019, workers flocked in from all over Brazil driving up rates of crime, prostitution and violence and putting extra strain on housing, sanitation and other municipal services.

Bolsonaro's presidency has intensified a new destructive cycle in the Amazon, leading to around 11,100 square kilometres of virgin forest being cut down between August 2019 and July 2020, according to the National Institute for Space Research, a 9.5% increase over the previous year before. The head of the Institute, Ricardo Galvao, was unceremoniously sacked from his post by the president in August 2020 after clashing with him over the Institute's deforestation data which Bolsonaro called a "lie".

More recently, the Brazilian government has been intimating that it is looking to reduce annual greenhouse emissions over the coming decades but has put an annual price tag of $ 10 billion on the process, money it expects to be paid by the international community.

Lalo de Almeida has been photographing the Amazon region for the past decade, documenting the effects of industry and infrastructure projects on the fragile ecosystems of the rainforest and its people.
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