Brazil wildfires. Photo: Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Gross/AP/Shutterstock
The Amazon, the most diverse ecosystem in the world, is burning at a devastatingly rapid rate.
Since the start of the year, Brazil has recorded more than 80,000 fires across the country — most of which have erupted in the rain forest — which is an 84 percent increase over the same period in 2018. In the past month alone, there have been at least 26,000.
The currentfires are so widespread and severe that they’re visible from space, and environmental activists and world leaders are demandingimmediate action to protect indigenous peoples and wildlife.
Predictably, humansare to blame for this catastrophe, which has only grown worse underBrazil’s right-wing, climate-change-denyingpresident, Jair Bolsonaro.
During his tenure, Bolsonaro has severely weakened environmental and indigenous protections and blatantly prioritized business interests over everything else, emboldening farmers and ranchers to start illegal fires to clear land for cattle.
Earlier this week, he flat-out rejected $22.2 million in international aid to help fight the fires.
Brazil's President Bolsonaro retracted unfounded claims that NGOs were setting fires in the Amazon, after backlash.9,500 fires have been detected there in the last week.
The Amazon rainforest is on fire, what can you do about it? | Living
Over the last three weeks, Brazil has seen vast wildfires sweep the Amazon rainforest.
In an 83% rise in forest fires since 2018 says the INPE, surrounding states such as Amazonas have now declared an emergency due to the severe environmental destruction.
On Monday, the blaze was so extreme that Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paolo, was plunged into darkness at just 2 pm due to smoke, causing a blackout.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policy is being cited publicly by Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator, Marcio Astrini, as being directly related to the wildfires.
According to the same source, this is owing to the right-wing president's encouragement of more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon, rather than emphasising the need for conservation.
Earlier this year, Bolsonaro was accused of dismantling the country’s environmental protections by eight former Brazilian environment ministers.
What are public figures saying on social media?
Social media is becoming a powerful tool in response to this grave crisis, as users and celebrities post photos and messages to spread awareness about the rainforest fires.
Hashtags #PrayforAmazonia, #PrayforAmazonas and #AmazonRainforest have been trending, with many referring to the Amazon as the “lungs of our planet” playing a major role in regulating the climate.
There has also been widespread criticism about the lack of mainstream media coverage so far, compared with the Notre Dame blaze in Paris earlier this year.
- Leonardo DiCaprio posted this on Instagram yesterday, calling the burning “terrifying” and calling out the scarce media coverage in the process.
- The model and member of the Kardashian family, Kendall Jenner, posted a series of Instagram stories to raise the alarm.
- Supermodel and eco-warrior Gisele Bundchen also shared a Greenpeace petition to “stand with the forest guardians” so that indigenous land and communities can be protected.
Actress Daryl Hannah has been retweeting about the Amazon crisis consistently for the last three weeks since the fires started. Yesterday she simply wrote, “SOS!!”
- South-African actress Lesley-Ann Brandt made a reference to the Notre Dame blaze asking “Where are the billionaires?”
- Greenpeace shared an infographic of the scale of the blaze, coining two more hashtags : #climatecrisis and #ForestsAreLife.
The Amazon Is on Fire—What Can We Do?
The Amazon rainforest is burning. A blanket of dark smoke covers the Brazilian state of Roraima. A state of emergency was declared in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
Over 2,700 kilometers away, the sky suddenly went dark over 12 million people in Sao Paolo, prompting many to post photos with the hashtag #prayforamazonia.
The devastation is so large, it can be seen from space.
What caused the fires? Are they being put out? What impact does the burning South American rainforest have on the rest of the world, and what can we do about it?
How big are the fires?
According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE, Brazil’s version of NASA), 72,843 fires have been detected in Brazil since January this year. That’s an 83% increase from the same time period just last year and the highest on record since they began keeping records six years ago. Last week alone saw 9,507 new fires, mostly in the Amazon basin.
According to the National Institute for Space Research, 72,843 fires have been detected in Brazil since January this year.
Using data from NASA’s EARTHDATA program, which monitors active fires globally, Quartz has produced a map of currently active fires, which stretch across Brazil and South America but are most dense in the Brazilian states surrounding and including the Amazon rainforest.
What caused the fires?
It is currently the dry season across Brazil when wildfires are not uncommon. However, the frequency and intensity of the current fires cannot be explained by naturally occurring wildfires alone.
In fact, farmers often take advantage of the dry conditions this time of year to purposefully set fires with the intent of clearing land for cattle ranching.
With minimum startup costs and easy access to the land, cattle ranching is an appealing way for those in the rural surrounding areas to earn a living. Farmers first cut the trees down and leave them to dry out.
They later set fire to the fallen trees so that their ashes will fertilize the soil.
Droughts can also lead to more widespread fires in a kind of feedback loop. Starved for water, dead trees provide kindling for growing fires.
The carbon stored in those trees, which would ordinarily stay locked there for decades, is instead released into the environment. The carbon ultimately causes global temperatures to rise.
Rising temperatures then cause more droughts, and the cycle continues.
Why the fires in the Amazon matter to the world
What you can do to help the burning Amazon rainforest
Nearly 73,000 wildfires have decimated the Amazon rainforest this year, a record amount for an ecosystem that produces a remarkable amount of Earth's oxygen. From celebrities and politicians throughout the world to locals, frustration and mourning continues to mount over the amount of man-made devastation in the Amazon.
Brazil's space research center INPE has reported a recent 84% increase in forest fires from the same period in 2018. NASA satellite images showed the smoke all the way from space. It traveled to nearby cities and those even thousands of miles away such as Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Environmentalists say humans are the root cause of the Amazon fires — not wind or heat. The surge has coincided with the arrival of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who critics feel has emboldened farmers and ranchers to clear land to create pastures, therefore speeding up the rate of deforestation.
Despite no evidence, Bolsonaro blamed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for the fires again Thursday, BBC News reported. He also said there aren't enough resources to fight the fires, but stated the government is investigating.
Pictures from the Amazon rainforest fires 30 photos
How to help the Amazon rainforest
The Amazon is on fire: 5 things you need to know
Editor's Note: Analysis by Conservation International experts is revealing where the Amazon fires are and why that matters. Track the Amazon fires in real time here.
Smoke from fires in the Amazon darkened the skies of Sao Paulo, Brazil, this week, as the world’s largest tropical forest found itself in the midst of an ecological — and increasingly political — crisis.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro on Tuesday suggested without evidence that the fires were set by nonprofit organizations to make him look bad. Under Bolsonaro’s administration, deforestation has soared in the Brazilian Amazon, which now faces an existential, human-caused threat to its continued existence.
Here’s what you need to know — and why there is reason for hope.
1. The Amazon is at risk of reaching a devastating 'tipping point.'
Scientists say that deforestation in the Amazon is pushing the region to a tipping point at which the forest will gradually turn into dry savanna — and which humans will be unable to reverse.
Once sufficiently degraded, the forest will lose its ability to generate its own rainfall, thereby preventing the rainforest ecosystem from being able to exist at all.
Instead of leafy forests teeming with wildlife, the Amazon would be a desolate expanse of shrublands.
Sound scary? It is. Fortunately, developments elsewhere across the Amazon basin — 40 percent of which lies in other countries outside Brazil — offer reasons for hope.
Sunrise from a canopy tower overlooking the Amazon Forest. New technology could help countries and rural communities fight wildfires before they start. (© Luana Luna)
2. One country is leading the pack
After emerging from decades of unrest, Colombia has made protecting its forests a centerpiece of the country’s future plans.
In just the past few years, Colombia established a carbon tax and a carbon offset market — effectively a tax on polluters paired with a program to enable them to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing credits to keep tropical forests standing.
“Without relying on other institutions or donor countries, Colombia’s carbon tax is already generating funds at the $250 million mark,” said Sebastian Troëng, executive vice president at Conservation International.
This is larger than the entire global voluntary carbon market in 2016 and has resulted in more demand for forest conservation than the market can currently supply — while acting as a model for other countries to implement into their economic system.
How to help the Amazon rainforest: 9 things you can do during the fires and beyond
Global warming’s catastrophic effects are on full display as Siberia, Alaska, and Brazil’s Amazon rainforest burn. The Amazon wildfires are particularly alarming as scientists have said that trees are the planet’s first line of defense against global warming.
Due to deforestation, scientists estimate that we are near the tipping point where the Amazon can no longer function as a carbon sink. Brazil’s Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store.
Cutting down trees in the rainforest produces 8% of net global emissions, more than the entire European Union.
But the rainforest has experienced a record number of fires this year, with 72,843 reported so far.
While the state of Amazonas has declared an emergency (with the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia trending on social media this week), Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done little to fight the blaze, even as the haze from the fires blackened the sky hundreds of miles away in São Paulo.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase in wildfires in the Amazon rainforest from the same period in 2018.
After reporting that number and an 88% increase in the deforestation rate in the Amazon, INPE’s director, Ricardo Galvão, was ousted from his job.
According to the BBC, conservationists claim Bolsonaro has encouraged logging and farming in the Amazon, two activities that can lead to fires.
“Starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” Alberto Setzer, an INPE researcher, told Reuters.
While there’s no way to stop the fires without hopping in a plane and flying to Brazil with a firehose, there are a few things you can do to help the rainforest, which may not be as satisfying as dousing flames but can have a long-lasting impact:
- Protect an acre of rainforest through the Rainforest Action Network.
- Help buy land in the rainforest through the Rainforest Trust.
- Support the rainforest’s indigenous populations with Amazon Watch.
- Reduce your paper and wood consumption or buy rainforest safe products through the Rainforest Alliance.
- Support arts, science, and other projects that raise awareness about the Amazon through the Amazon Aid Foundation.
- Help protect animals living in the jungle with WWF.
- Reduce your beef consumption. Rainforest beef is typically found in fast-food hamburgers or processed beef products.
- Make your voice heard by signing a petition.
- If you’re in a position to help protect the rainforest on a macroscale, Foreign Policy argues that one of the most powerful tools for protecting the region is to work with businesses rather than against them. This is particularly effective in the beef industry, because as Foreign Policy notes, domestic meat producers in Brazil work with international companies that “are committed to zero-carbon standards, in principle” and are more susceptible to public outcry than Bolsonaro. They suggest that trade, distribution, and financing deals that are dependent on protecting the rainforest and sustainability can be a boon to the planet and to Brazilians who depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods.
Take action to stop the Amazon burning
Environmental protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The attention of world leaders on the Amazon is welcome, but their response is “a drop in the bucket”.Credit: Bruna Prado/Getty
Less than a decade ago, Brazil was an environmental leader.
Its government had elevated forest conservation and sustainable development to national policy and then, with the help of satellite imagery, it had cracked down on illegal deforestation across the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Deforestation in the Amazon plummeted even as agricultural production — the biggest driver of forest loss — increased. Now, that progress is going up in smoke.
Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) showing a sharp uptick in the number of fires in the Amazon this year triggered headlines around the globe.
Landowners use fire to clear forest illegally to make way for crops and cattle grazing, but Brazil’s populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, has effectively fanned the flames with his anti-environmentalist agenda since taking office in January.
Scientists who live and work in the region were not surprised at what is happening, but INPE’s report sparked concerns in world capitals just as leaders of the G7 group of countries with the world’s biggest economies gathered for their annual summit in Biarritz, France.
Neither extinguishing the flames nor solving the underlying problem of deforestation will be easy. It doesn’t help that Bolsonaro is among those world leaders questioning whether an environmental agenda can deliver long-promised economic benefits. His development-at-any-cost policies hark back to an earlier era in which deforestation was treated as a measure of progress.
He has railed against regulation, cut the budget of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency and advocated mining on lands belonging to Indigenous people. When news of the fires spread, Bolsonaro accused environmental groups of setting blazes to make him look bad. When G7 leaders pledged emergency funding to help put the fires out, he called it colonialism.
More efforts needed
The attention of world leaders on the Amazon is welcome, but their response is insufficient to deal with the scale of the crisis. The G7’s offer of US$22 million, initially rebuffed by Bolsonaro, seemed rushed.
This sum would hardly fight the fires, let alone address the underlying problems. In the words of the former UN climate-secretariat chief Christiana Figueres, it was “a drop in the bucket”.
On 6 September, at a forest-conservation summit convened by Brazil, seven Amazon countries pledged to work together — but provided few details on what they would actually do.
Paradoxically, there is already a large pot of money dedicated to tropical-forest conservation in Brazil. This is the Amazon Fund, established by Brazil in 2008 to attract international donations for conservation efforts. Since the fund’s inception, Norway has invested the lion’s share of the almost $1.
3-billion total, while Germany has contributed another $68 million and Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras of Rio de Janeiro, nearly $8 million. The funds have been used to pay for everything from research and land-use planning to law enforcement.
But these investments were contingent on the government curbing deforestation, and both Germany and Norway have now suspended payments.
The Amazon Is Still on Fire
Latin America is one of the global regions most vulnerable to climate change, and increased forest fires are just one symptom. Amazonian fires caught international headlines in July and August of 2019, bringing much needed attention to the ongoing onslaught on the environment and peoples of the region.
While the fires have somewhat faded from the news cycle, deforestation rates continue to go up, and the very real threat towards Indigenous peoples and the environment continues, particularly in Brazil.The U.S. plays a large role in Amazonian deforestation through the consumption of products that contribute to deforestation in their supply chains. Despite a dire political situation in Brazil, U.
S. markets can create a real impact when it comes to curbing current alarming trends.
Forest burning outside of the municipality of Labrea in the northwest Brazillian Amazon
The Amazon rainforest helps regulate global climate, yet deforestation rates in the nine countries that house the forest are increasing. An expanding agricultural and cattle frontier, together with mining and uncontrolled economic exploitation are some of the primary causes for deforestation.
Scientists warn that there needs to be increased monitoring and regulation, as well as resources to combat fires—fires which are exacerbated by climate change and drought. A recent study analyzed the carbon sequestration capacity of the Amazon and found that between 2003 and 2016, the Amazon actually emitted more carbon than it could absorb.
However, Indigenous land and protected territories absorbed more carbon than areas without protection. Researchers found that 70 percent of the total carbon emitted from the Amazon between 2003 and 2016 came from areas outside of Indigenous-held land and protected areas.
Weakening environmental protections and continual threats on Indigenous lands thus threaten not only the Amazon but the entire world.
A view from the Solimoes River, an Amazonian tributary just outside of Manaus
The Brazilian Amazon is 1.5 times larger than portions of the jungle found in any other country, making Brazilian policy and protections particularly important globally.
Since the election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, continued harmful policies and archaic, racist rhetoric have helped increase the rate of Amazonian deforestation (reaching a new record for being at its worst level in five years this January). According to the National Institute of Space Studies (Inpe), 284.
3km2 of forest coverage was lost in January 2020 alone. The Inpe previously released information about an 85 percent jump in deforestation from 2018-2019, a rise that is attributed by ecologists to a so-called “Bolsonaro effect.”
Forest fires have recently been so bad that Brazil has authorized national security to help combat them.
The Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, approved a force made up of police officers with military training to help support the environmental agency Ibama in the northern state of Pará through the end of the year.
Another move by the Bolsonaro government has been the creation of an Amazon Council and Environmental Police force that will be led by vice president Hamilton Mourao (an avowed mining enthusiast), to oversee “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defense and development, and sustainable development of the Amazon.” With these changes, Bolsonaro is amplifying a military presence and emphasis on unhindered development to the region—similar to the goals of the brutal military dictatorship that held power in Brazil from 1964-1985.
Bolsonaro has been busily gutting environmental agencies, and in early February signed a draft law allowing large scale mining, oil and gas extraction, and other destructive activities on Indigenous territories. The draft law, PL191, fulfils one of Bolsonaro’s main campaign promises: to bolster the economy through resource extraction.
It is currently a crime to mine on Indigenous land in Brazil (lands which make up 13 percent of the country’s territory), yet 10,000 illegal miners have invaded Yanomami territory, one of the largest relatively isolated tribes in South America.
Invasions such as these, along with murders of Indigenous peoples and environmental activists have greatly increased since Bolsonaro’s rise. Bolsonaro is also set to appoint an ex-missionary, Ricardo Lopes Dias, to head the department for isolated and recently contacted tribes.
This, along with a seemingly never-ending barrage of racist remarks, has provoked fears of genocide of uncontacted Indigenous groups. Anti-Indigenous policy is now essentially state policy in Brazil.
Panel convened on “Resisting the Right Wing Assault in Brazil,” Joenia Wapichana (far right) speaks.
In response, Indigenous groups have been organizing against Bolsonaro’s policies, holding protests in the nation’s capital, Brasilia, and speaking publicly about continued attacks on their territory and the murder of Indigenous leaders—actions that threaten not just their own land but the fate of the Amazon itself. In a recent forum held in Washington, D.C. on “Resisting the Right-wing Assault in Brazil,” Joenia Wapichana, a Congresswoman from the state of Roraima (in the Amazon region) and the first and only Indigenous woman elected to Brazilian Congress, called for international solidarity and support of Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. The best way to do this, she noted, was through heavily monitoring U.S.—Brazil supply chains and trade networks and calling on companies to not use materials from deforested lands.
Soybean plantation in Belterra, Brazil. Brazil currently has 60 million acres devoted to soy cultivation.
The U.S., as a major purchaser of beef and soy from Brazil, can play a large role in protecting the Amazon from further deforestation.
For example, a new motion is being adopted by the City of Los Angeles to help eliminate the purchase of products derived from deforestation. Bolsonaro seems to pay attention when it comes to trade, and actions in the U.S.
to address the deforestation crisis can hopefully serve to push the political needle in Brazil.