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The Amazon Rainforest Is Burning At A Record Rate

By Danielle Dorsey

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New satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) indicates that the Amazon rainforests are burning at a record rate, with an 84% increase compared to this time last year. As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming and is home to one million Indigenous people and three million species of plants and animals. Scientists worry that the fires could be a devastating blow to climate change. 

INPE says that it has detected more than 74,000 fires between January and August — the highest number since they began recording in 2013. The agency has observed more than 9,500 forest fires since last Thursday, primarily in the Amazon region. Satellite images show the northern state of Roraima engulfed in black smoke and the neighboring state of Amazonas has declared an emergency in response to the fires. 

In contrast, NASA claims that overall fire activity in the Amazon region is slightly below average this year. They acknowledge that activity has increased in Amazonas and Rondonia, but point out a decrease in activity in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

Smoke has reached populous Sao Pãulo, which is more than 2,700 km (1,700 miles) away, and experienced a citywide blackout on Monday. Images from the city show its skies covered in dark smoke in the middle of the afternoon. However, some meteorologists say the smoke is from fires in Paraguay, which is much closer to the city and not in the Amazon region.

Conservationists cast the blame on Brazilian President Jair Bosonaro, who recently fired the head of INPE after the director published data that showed an 88% increase in deforestation in the Amazon compared to June 2018. Bosonaro is criticized for reversing environmental protections and encouraging deforestation. During his presidential campaign, he promised to restore the nation’s economy by exploring the Amazon’s economic potential. 

Bolsonaro dismissed INPE’s recent findings, saying it was the “season of the queimada,” when farmers use fire to clear land. While it’s true that wildfires are common during Brazil’s dry season, illegal fires that result in deforestation are often started for cattle ranching. Bolsonaro was quoted by Reuters as saying, “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame.”

Last month, Greenpeace called Bolsonaro and his administration a “threat to the climate equilibrium” and warned that his policies would have a “heavy cost” on the Brazilian economy in the long run. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that if conditions in the Amazon don’t improve, the rainforest could become a dry savannah and would become inhabitable for much of its wildlife. If that happens, it would start emitting carbon — the primary cause of climate change — instead of being a source of oxygen.

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Danielle Dorsey

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