The Amazon rainforest has lost the equivalent of 8.4 million soccer fields over the past decade due to deforestation.
That’s about 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields. Put another way, it’s the equivalent of losing Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The stunning figure is from the Royal Statistical Society, which chose it as its international statistic of the decade. The British organization is comprised of statisticians from around the world.
“The statistic only gives a snapshot of the issue, but it really provides an insight into the dramatic change to the landscape that has occurred over the past decade,” Liberty Vittert, a visiting scholar at Harvard University and one of the statisticians on the judging panel for the RSS, told CNN.
Statisticians calculated that number using deforestation data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and FIFA’s regulations on pitch dimensions.
Since 2010, miles and miles of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have been converted for commercial use, including cattle ranching, logging and palm oil production. These industries are responsible for millions of metric tons of carbon emissions each year.
“If you look at what the Amazon provides, [the issue of deforestation] provides an example of what’s happening worldwide with short-term financial gains trumping long-term financial loss and environmental loss,” Vittert said.
Deforestation has been accelerating since 2012
More than two-thirds of the Amazon are located in Brazil, and the rainforest is often described as “the lungs of the earth.” It’s home to at least 10% of the world’s biodiversity, produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and helps regulate the temperature of the whole planet.
Deforestation in the Amazon took off in the 1970s, reaching a peak in 1995. But in the years that followed, the rate of destruction had been on the decline, reaching its lowest point in 2012.
Since then, deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest has been accelerating, with rates of destruction skyrocketing in recent months. Environmentalists blame Brazil’s far-right leader President Jair Bolsonaro and his government for the increase, saying it’s a sign that his policies have started to take effect.
Bolsonaro has taken a pro-business stance since assuming office at the beginning of the year, vowing to recover the Brazilian economy and explore the rainforest’s economic potential. Experts say farmers, loggers and miners have since taken advantage of relaxed controls on deforestation in the country and seized on those areas for development.
The government has also been impeding the efforts of people working to keep deforestation in check.
In July of this year, CNN reported that the Brazilian Environment and Renewables Institute (IBAMA), the country’s environmental enforcement agency, had seen its budget cut by $23 million. Data also showed that the number of operations that IBAMA conducted in 2019 had gone down since Bolsonaro was sworn in.
In August, Brazil fired the head of the INPE, the government agency that found a steep rise in Amazon deforestation, after a dispute with Bolsonaro.
And in November, the agency reported that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon had risen to its highest level in 11 years.