“All is not yet lost!” – A contemporary look at Amazonia


The rain forest is going up in smoke – this is the impression given by the images that have been circling the globe for years. But the digital age means that they now travel faster than ever. There are fires in the Arctic, forests burning in Canada, Siberia, South East Asia and now in Amazonia. It is a cause for concern and incomprehension, as most people are now aware of the importance of the largest tropical forest on earth in climate change and protecting biodiversity.  

Barbara Unmüßig

Discussing the threat to Amazonia and finding out about the many causes of deforestation was and is our focus in commissioning this study. Amazonia is not just the world’s largest tropical forest and freshwater reservoir, it is also a natural environment and hotspot biodiversity and, above all, it is home to 33 million people, to 385 registered indigenous tribes. Its climate function is well known and proven. Without forest protection, the Paris climate objectives are simply unachievable.

Decades of deforestation in Brazil

Reports and current trends are extremely worrying. Since Jair Bolsonaros took up office as President in January 2019, deforestation rates have curved steeply upwards once again. But it should be borne in mind that even under previous presidents, from Lula to Temer, and even with enormous global awareness of the importance of tropical forests and many national and international efforts, deforestation has never been halted altogether. This is why this publication aims to investigate the background (and people behind the scenes) as well as the causes of deforestation. For the destruction of the rainforest and obliteration of areas where indigenous peoples and traditional communities live is the result of social and economic processes embedded in the country’s power structures.

Publication by Thomas Fatheuer

In the publication "Amazonia Today", Thomas Fatheuer successfully analyses the many players and drivers of deforestation. It becomes clear that the new President Bolsonaro represents interests that are deeply rooted in the Brazilian system of rule. He has revisited the old idea that Amazonia needs development – even if this is at the expense of the rainforest. Cattle ranching, agriculture, hydroelectric dams and mining are, after all, highly productive. Traditional developments and the protection of nature and habitats continue to be a minefield that cannot be overcome with just a win-win rhetoric. It is all about power and profits. Bolsonaro has not lost his mind and suddenly decided to support deforestation, he is a resolute, far-right champion of the interests of mighty economic players. Bolsonaro supports these interests by sweeping aside the laws and institutions, such as the environmental authority IBAMA or the National Indian Foundation FUNAI, which were set up to ensure protection for indigenous peoples and forests, cutting off their funding, discrediting them and leaving them unfit for purpose. He is at war with them all, criminalises all those who criticise his political views and development model or opposes him. The flames threaten to engulf not just the forest, but also the habitats of the indigenous population, basic human rights and Brazil’s (agile) democracy.

Deforestation on an upswing for seven years

But all is not yet lost. Firstly, the Amazonian rainforest is not all on fire. According to estimations, around 11,500 km² of land had been destroyed at the end of the 2019 measurement period (end of August), compared to 7,500 km² in 2018. But every square kilometre is still one too many. It is also clear that these figures are part of mass propaganda with the objective of playing down the phenomenon. The Bolsonaro government always refers to the first year of the Lula government (2003/04), during which the deforestation rates were far higher. This does not, however, take away from the fact that since 2012, deforestation has been on the rise again.  

Secondly: the emancipatory Brazilian civil society and a public that is generally increasingly prepared to put up a fight and bring pressure to bear on the government. Approval of Bolsonaro’s political line is rapidly decreasing. And many indigenous territories and protected areas also continue to represent protection and a firewall against flames and agribusiness. All of this is very much worth supporting. 

Germany must do its bit and exit coal

Solidarity in this case means one thing above all: putting an end to hypocrisy and pointing the finger at Brazil, as we are not exactly role models when it comes to deforestation and certainly not as regards climate policy. “We” continue to burn the (underground) rainforests. We, the Europeans and the Germans, import meat, soy, wood and minerals, the exploitation of which is the major cause of deforestation. This means that we must take our share of the blame for the destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Our politicians have the power to protect it, but choose not to, quite the reverse: the EU-Mercosur trade deal to be ratified shortly aims predominantly to open up the South American marketplace to German and European car exports. In return, the EU will commit to import more soy and more meat. This bears no resemblance to a credible climate, forest protection and human rights policy.

Understanding Amazonia better

With Amazonia Today, Thomas Fatheuer has created the conditions for a very different view of the Amazon Basin. He analyses precisely the projections, myths and attributes that are linked to this diverse, complex and enormous area of nature and habitat. He also provides alternatives to deforestation and destruction, as developed by social movements and civil society in Brazil. 

What Thomas Fatheuer set out to do was to understand Amazonia better, sketch a differentiated picture of all its natural spaces and people, analyse the vested interests and challenge them. He has known parts of Amazonia for decades and travelled through the region once again for this publication, has family ties here and is on the horns of a dilemma between doubt and hope. He also continues to be active in the fight against the destruction of this unique habitat, for which I would like to thank him with all my heart.