Record fires are sweeping through the Amazon rainforest, according to multiple news outlets.
As both BBC News and CNN report, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has claimed that the Amazon is experiencing the highest number of fires since 2013 – when INPE began documenting Amazonian forest fires.
CNN writes that INPE has recorded 72,843 fires in Brazil from the beginning of the year until now (January – August), which is 80% higher than the same time period in 2018. The BBC cites an even higher figure: 74,000 fires.
Regardless of the exact number, the effects of these fires could be devastating.
INPE earlier reported that in June, Amazon deforestation was 88% higher than in the same month during 2018, for which Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro fired INPE’s director. Given the Amazon’s significance as a carbon sink and biodiversity hotspot, this deforestation – and now these record fires – could have global consequences.
Causes of the Fires
It will take formal investigations to determine the exact causes of the current fires that are sweeping through the Brazilian Amazon. While fires occur naturally during the dry season, INPE said that the climate wasn’t dry enough to account for the scale of this year’s fires.
Bolsonaro – a far-right president who favors exploiting the Amazon for economic gain – claimed that environmental NGOs deliberately started the fires after he removed their funding. He presented no evidence to support his statements, making them about as credible as Ancient Aliens.
However, ornithologist Alex Lees linked to a disturbing story about a ‘Dia do Fogo,’ or Day of Fire, on Twitter. According to journalist Fabiano Maisonnave, Brazilian farmers who felt emboldened by Bolsonaro organized a Day of Fire to speed up deforestation on August 10, 2019.
Then, on August 10, forest fires spiked in areas near where the farmers lived.
The record fires in the Amazon created massive, dark clouds over the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo – over 1,700 miles away.
The BBC reported that some meteorologists believed that the smoke originated from fires in nearby Paraguay, but a map from the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service appears to show a line of smoke extending from eastern Brazil – where the fires are – to Sao Paolo.
Another discrepancy reported by the BBC is that NASA disputes INPE’s assertions that the Amazon is experiencing record forest fires.
According to the U.S. agency, fire activity has been a little below average this year. It’s on the rise in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Rondonia, but down in Mato Grosso and Pára.
Unfortunately, given the far-right takeover of the U.S. government – to the point of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supporting the gutting of the Endangered Species Act – I’m not sure we can trust American agencies when it comes to environmental news.