The Amazon Rainforest has been commonly known as the “Lungs of our Planet,” an unspoiled home to isolated tribes and a green paradise untouched by human hands. However, a closer look reveals a different reality, where cities have emerged from the jungle, creating a green favela. Fields are ablaze, the Amazon river is used for the trafficking of drugs, and the riverbanks are littered with waste and corpses. “Terra Vermelha,” or red earth, is a portrait of modern-day Brazil’s Amazon, where social and humanitarian crises overlap with the ongoing destruction of the rainforest.
Recent years have witnessed unparalleled levels of environmental destruction, rural and urban violence, and uncontrolled urban expansion in the region. The urban centres are among the world’s most violent, with drug wars fueled by increased cocaine production and migrants fleeing the crisis in neighboring Venezuela, as well as economic migrants seeking work in dams and other mega projects. The region is also the deadliest in the world for land rights, environmental, and Indigenous activists, who are terrorized by land grabbers and violent extractive gangs seeking the region’s vast natural resources, while poverty-stricken illegal miners and loggers are employed in slave-like conditions.
Scientists warn that the forest is reaching a tipping point, after which it will be unable to recuperate. Deforestation is fueled by global markets for timber, beef, soy, and iron ore. Meanwhile, government and private sector infrastructure projects like dams and mines destroy rivers and the habitats of indigenous people.
The Amazon crisis has worsened in recent years as Brazil has faced political and economic instability, leading to cuts in resources to combat these problems. With the rise of an increasingly powerful anti-environmental and human rights-oriented Congress and President, this is not a problem that will disappear anytime soon.
For the past eight years, I have been documenting the intersecting social and environmental crises in the Amazon states of Amazonas, Maranhao, Pará, Rondonia, Roraima, and Mato Grosso. My portfolio covers all of these intersecting crises, including deforestation, unregulated development, pollution, and crime.
Poverty, weak institutions, corruption, and savage self-interest are the driving forces behind all of these scenarios. It becomes clear that in the Amazon region, land is worth more than human life. On the path towards the destruction of the planet, the first and closest step for mankind is still its own annihilation.