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World News

The Amazon can’t defend itself any more – and in this part of the forest, it may be beyond help

today01/11/2021

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Our 4×4 lurches across the road as our driver attempts to negotiate his way around enormous craters; bone shuddering ruts force the car into unexpected diversions from a straight line, while billowing dust hides huge trucks that suddenly appear in front of you on the wrong side of the road – travelling through the Amazon is not for the faint-hearted.

We are on the BR-163, a highway that cuts a 1,000-mile gash through the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil‘s Para State.

The 163 is a testament to the wilful destruction of the rainforest to make way for economic development at any cost.

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Amazon rainforest is at ‘tipping point’

The traffic is absolutely constant, over 40 years it’s grown from a red scar in the forest to a mega highway, carrying beef, corn, soy and logs to the outside world on an industrial scale.

What was once a road surrounded by thick, impenetrable jungle is now a dead straight line through open farming fields that tell a story of the mass exploitation of natural resources; an exploitation that always starts with the cutting of ancient trees, and despite worldwide condemnation continues unabated.

Driving the BR-163, it’s easy to see the burning that precedes the logging that follows. Although it’s illegal, out here they don’t seem to hide it any more.

Lorries filled with precious, valuable wood from the rainforest are everywhere – huge logs loaded onboard and taken away.

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As we drove along the road, we came across a newly cut section of the forest. It looked like a tree graveyard – thousand-year-old trees now blackened and charred, are strewn across the hillside as far as the eye can see.

The trees are burnt to weaken them, so they can be cut down – without the burning, the loggers would never be able to chop through them with their chainsaws.

The trunks of these trees are sometimes well over 10ft wide. They are majestic even when they’re dead.

There are more trees in the Amazon than stars in the Milky Way galaxy – imagine that – that is how vast this forest is, but it’s cut down every day at an unstoppable pace.

The villagers told us that just 16 years ago the town was in the middle of the rainforest, and all travellers passed through it bringing trade
Image: The villagers’ home is unrecognisable compared to what it once was

The loggers live in camps throughout the forest, moving from one location to another. They come back at night to chop and remove the trees.

Be under no doubt these trees are worth a fortune.

But legal or illegal logging, it makes no difference, these trees will never be replaced. The forest can’t defend itself any more.

Scientists have warned that the Amazon is in danger of reaching a tipping point, where it simply cannot regenerate itself.

amazon rainforest
Image: The trees are burnt to weaken them so they can be cut down

In Para State, it would appear that tipping point has already been breached.

Most of what’s transported here on the BR-163 is at best murky, and at worst plain illegal.

But the loggers, the farmers and the ranchers say it’s transformed the economy of Para State – a transformation that for them is more important than stopping climate change.

Along one part of the road, we watched as a large lorry loaded with tree trunks joined the highway.

We decided to drive up the forest road to see where it came from. It led us to a large encampment with a security guard who asked what we wanted.

This is a legal logging site, part of a multi-million-pound business that has for 16 years in this camp alone been systematically cutting down trees for sale on the international market – although the man in charge was somewhat vague about where everything was going.

“We sell these trees to four different companies, I don’t know exactly where they go once they leave here, but I think it’s mostly to the United States,” he told us.

I pointed at two trucks packed with logs and asked him what the wood was worth. He said it’s difficult to tell.

“It depends what wood it is and what it is used for, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per truck,” he replied.

amazon rainforest brazil
Image: The traffic is absolutely constant

We asked him if we could film further into the forest, but presumably aware of the optics of watching trees being felled in the Amazon rainforest, he insisted we couldn’t go further without permission from the head office hundreds of miles away.

He told us we had to drive back, get the paperwork, then return – fully knowing this would never happen.

As he explained the rules, I saw his logistics officer quietly laughing to himself. It’s clear they were never going to let us in.

Joao Alves Feidosa told us the 163 has been a disaster for their economy but more importantly for the environment
Image: Joao Alves Feidosa told us the 163 has been a disaster for their economy and the environment

In his office, the same logistics officer explained that individual trees are identified for cutting and the lumberjacks are given GPS coordinates for the trees.

He said not everything is cut down, some are seed trees, and they are left alone.

But of course they’re now standing completely alone, so it’s not a forest, it’s just a tree.

Amazon rainforest vt
Image: What was once a road surrounded by thick impenetrable jungle is now a dead straight line through open farming fields

He told me that after an area has been gone through, they will not return for another 35 years. It sounds quite a long time, but proudly he showed me a picture of one of the latest trees to be cut, which was over a thousand years old.

The argument that legal deforestation of the Amazon allows regeneration clearly doesn’t add up.

A further 100 miles or so down the BR-163 we spotted the town of Trairao nestling beneath the rainforest. It’s the only town on the road that still does.

br-163
Image: Just 16 years ago the town was in the middle of the rainforest

The villagers told us that just 16 years ago the town was in the middle of the rainforest, and all travellers passed through it, bringing trade.

Now it’s just off the tarmacked main road, the trees have gone, and nobody comes through.

Joao Alves Feidosa, 75, told us the 163 has been a disaster for their economy but more importantly for the environment.

ramsay
amazon
rainforest
Image: Scientists have warned that the Amazon is in danger of reaching a tipping point, where it cannot regenerate itself

“There was a lot of forest everywhere, everywhere, it was forest everywhere,” he told us, pointing to the town.

“Then after this road, more people came, and more people came from outside, they bought the land and knocked down 50-60 trees at once … and it carried on, today it is the same.”

It’s not just the trees that have gone, Joao told us. It’s everything.

Sky's Stuart Ramsay stands next to one of the massive trees that has been burnt
Image: Sky’s Stuart Ramsay stands next to one of the massive trees that has been burnt

“You can walk for 500 kilometers [in the forest] and you can’t find a toucan, a monkey, an agouti, a paca, an armadillo, a deer – nowhere,” he said looking up towards the remaining forest on the hill above.

“You get up there… it’s just mountains, there is nothing there, there are no birds, anything, it’s all over.”

The traffic on the 163 never ever stops, occasionally it branches off to the tributaries of the Amazon – rivers that are the lifeblood of the forest replaced now by tarmac and mud.

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Trucks, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians criss-cross the river on barges, all part of the growing economy of the region that is in one way or another linked to the deforestation of the Amazon.

Everything grown or cut down here ends up in the world’s supply chain. And the BR-163 ensures that it will get there.

This part of the Amazon, a unique vital part of our planet, is being cleared out by humans – it’s almost complete.

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There are still pristine areas of the Amazon rainforest of course, slowly but surely though the development is spreading.

If no agreement to protect the rainforest here in Brazil can be reached, then what we’ve seen in Para State could be replicated elsewhere – where you’re left with living trees standing alone on the side of the road.

No canopy. No biodiversity. No forest.

For full coverage of COP26 watch Climate Live on Sky channel 525.

Follow live coverage on web and app with our dedicated live blog.

Get all the latest stories, special reports and in depth analysis at skynews.com/cop26

 Sky News

© Sky News 2021

Written by: Rother Radio News


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today01/11/2021