There are currently a record number of fires burning in the Amazon rainforest.
Often referred to as “the lungs of the world,” the Amazon rain- forest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, famed for its biodiversity. The rainforest is home to approximately 3 million species of plants and animals and 1 million people. This major source of oxygen for the planet covers much of northwestern Brazil and extends into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries.
In a 48-hour period, leading up to Aug. 22, there were more than 2,500 active fires in the Brazilian rainforest, the BBC reported. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported there have been 74,155 fires in Brazil so far this year.
INPE has shown an increase of 80 to 85 percent this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region.
The consensus is the majority of the fires were set by humans. According to a CNN article titled “Blame humans for starting the Amazon fires, environmentalists say,” the wildfires were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who want to clear and utilize the land, emboldened by the country’s pro-business president.
“The vast majority of these fires are human-lit,” Christian Poirier, program director of the nonprofit organization Amazon Watch, said.
He added even during dry seasons, the Amazon does not catch on fire easily, unlike the dry bushland in California or Australia.
“Compared to previous years, the destruction this year is unprecedented,” Poirier noted.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is under fire — pun intended — for the increase in burning. According to the CNN article, Bolsonaro made promises to restore the economy by exploring the Amazon’s economic potential during his campaign. Now, environmental organizations are saying he encouraged ranchers, farmers and loggers to burn the rainforest more than ever before.
Bolsonaro denied he has anything to do with the fires. On Aug. 21, he speculated the Amazon fires could have been caused by nonprofit organizations suffering from lack of funding to “generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government,” according to CNN.
A recent BBC article titled “Amazon fires: Brazil threatened over EU trade deal” noted several members of the European Union have criticized Bolonaro and are saying he is ignoring the fires for political reasons. Many countries have called for a halt in trades with Brazil and are even discussing ceasing to send money for conservation if the president does not demonstrate his dedication to preserving the environment.
According to the BBC, even Bolsonaro’s agriculture minister and the country’s farmers associations have suggested there needs to be a change of tone from the president.
The BBC article did report Bolsonaro made a statement Aug. 23 saying he was considering options for fighting the fires, including deploying the military.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the fires a heartbreaking international crisis.
“We stand ready to provide whatever help we can to bring them under control and help protect one of Earth’s greatest wonders,” he added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the fire an acute emergency.
“It is shocking and threatening not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world,” she said.
The BBC reported environmental groups have called for protests in cities across Brazil Aug. 23 to demand action to combat the fires. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Brazilian embassies around the world, including in London, Berlin, Mumbai and Paris, the article stated.
Poirier warns shrugging off the fires could embolden farmers to burn more and “land grabbers” to illegally occupy, parcel out and resell plots of land to ranchers, according to the CNN article.
Social media users have compared the burning to the April 15 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. They are calling out and shaming the wealthy who immediately donated money to help the church but are not stepping up for the Amazon.
Some people are reaching out and begging the politicians to stop playing political games and work to end the fires.
“Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president (Bolsonaro) to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said.
Regardless of the politics of the situation, the Amazon rainforest is in danger. Whether you agree this is a danger and will escalate climate change concerns, the fact remains millions of animals and people are losing their homes.
If my home was on fire, I would want someone working to put it out.