As Brazil Amazon reaches 12-year high for deforestation, the cry of the Earth is louder than ever

January 5, 2021

“We need to feel outrage.” (Querida Amazonia 15)

Grim milestones have come and gone so often lately that it can be easy to want to look away.

We see another devastating headline crawling on our screen or phone, and we quickly scroll through.

A friend begins to mention those telling words, “Did you see that in the news…”, and we change the subject to safer territory, such as pets or sports.

As Catholics and Christians, however, we’re called to sit in the silence and absorb the pain, to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

“We need to feel outrage, as Moses did, as Jesus did, as God does in the face of injustice. It is not good for us to become inured to evil; it is not good when our social consciousness is dulled,”1 Pope Francis wrote in Querida Amazonia (15).

All Catholics and Christians should feel outraged by the fact that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest reached a 12-year high in 2020.

A total of 11,088 square kilometers, or about 4,280 square miles, were cleared from August 2019 to July 2020, according to preliminary numbers from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

That’d be as if 14 cities the size of New York City were razed in the span of 12 months.

The tally represents a 9.5 percent jump from 2019, and it is the fourth consecutive year the annual rate of deforestation has grown in Brazil’s Amazon.

We mourn for this tragic loss of creation, and we shutter knowing that the cry of the Earth is as loud as ever as we begin a pivotal decade for creation.

That’s 11,000 square kilometers that countless species and members of creation will no longer get to call home. “We have no such right.”2 (LS 33)

Thousands of trees will no longer have the opportunity to breathe and grow and help us stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

Worse yet, Indigenous Peoples who call the Amazon home and who have cared for that land for hundreds of years have 11,088 reasons to fear that their homes and livelihoods are next.

“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God… When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best,”3 Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’. (146)

His Holiness has not minced words while describing such devastation to the Amazon and creation. “The businesses… [that] harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples… should be called for what they are: injustice and crime.” (QA 14)

Speaking in 2014, Pope Francis labeled such behavior a “sin.”

“This is our sin: exploiting the land and not allowing it to give us what it has within it, with our help through cultivation.”4

Brazil’s Catholics, which make up two-thirds of the country, are united against such behavior, despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s dangerous calls for more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon region, words that some say have encouraged illegal behavior that has destroyed parts of the forest.

In a 2019 survey, 85 percent of Brazilian Catholics said they view attacking the Amazon as a sin, and seven out of 10 said that preserving the Amazon is “very important.” The survey was commissioned by the Global Catholic Climate Movement and the Climate and Society Institute.

The past 12 months have been trying in every way.

For the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a devastating layer on top of the existential crisis that is maintaining the right to care for their homeland.

As we continue celebrating the Christmas season and the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we should feel hopeful.  We know that we have been blessed with a loving and forgiving God.

But we should also feel outraged and motivated, and a responsibility to do better in 2021.

Jesus’ birth won’t remove the pain that the world has recently experienced. It shouldn’t let us forget about everything that has transpired.

Our Savior’s birth should help us celebrate how lucky we are and motivate us to care for all members of creation as God instructs us to do. 

Once we do, a better tomorrow awaits, because truly, “nothing will be impossible for God.”