Massive rise in fires across the Amazon is plunging Brazil into even further darkness

Dark clouds over São Paulo
John Ranson

Brazil’s official monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in Amazon wildfires this year. The National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, said the country has seen a record number of wildfires this year, counting 74,155 by 20 August, an 84% increase compared to the same period last year.

This comes as far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has sought to open the Amazon up to more ‘development and economic opportunities’ – a strategy that may tie into the rising number of fires. The increased exploitation of the Amazon, meanwhile, could seriously hinder the global fight against climate breakdown.

Day into night

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization showed the extent of smoke from the fires:

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And video reportedly shot during the daytime appeared to show São Paulo plunged into darkness:

Greenpeace, meanwhile, criticised the media for putting such little focus on the fires:

The president blames NGOs

Bolsonaro has suggested, without citing evidence, that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could be setting the fires to make him look bad.

“Maybe — I am not affirming it — these ([NGO] people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil”, Bolsonaro said in a video posted on his Facebook account. “This is the war we are facing”. When asked by reporters if he had evidence, he didn’t provide any.

However, earlier Bolsonaro had said, according to Reuters:

I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame.

He was suggesting it was normal for farmers to use fire to clear land as it was the “season of the queimada”, or ‘the burning season’.

One journalist nailed just how little sense Bolsonaro’s NGO suggestion made:

Everyone else blames the president

Scientist Alex Lees refers to a “Day of Fire” on 10 August, when farmers allegedly set fires as a statement to Bolsonaro that they were “ready to work”:

The president and his environment minister Ricardo Salles are both close to the powerful rural bloc in congress and have been urging more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, which they consider overly protected by current legislation. openDemocracy has revealed the extreme extent of these plans and how they may tie into the outbreak of fires. The policy has included transferring responsibility for indigenous people’s land claims to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Brazilian beef industry, which is a growing player in the UK market, faces allegations of using slave labour. It also allegedly carries out illegal deforestation.

Some NGOs, environmentalists, and academics have been blaming Bolsonaro’s pro-‘development’ policies for a sharp increase in Amazon deforestation shown in the latest data from the space research institute. The government is also facing international pressure to protect the vast rainforest from illegal logging or mining activities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains how a combination of deforestation and climate breakdown is making the Amazon rainforest less fire-resistant. And the fires themselves may be making the situation worse by suppressing the formation of rainclouds.

With the Amazon often called the “lungs of the planet”, it seems Bolsonaro’s power games may affect the whole Earth.

Featured image via Twitter – StanceGrounded. Additional reporting by Press Association.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Dear John and editors, it seems despite Greenpeace’s accusation, that the MSM Have been covering this, all parroting the NYT. I am guessing that you monitor OffGuardial for their take on things and their article at
      https://off-guardian.org/2019/08/23/amazon-burning-well-maybe-not-so-much/
      casts suspicion on the motives of reporting so many ‘fires’ as distinct from the below average, or by now, average extent of burning (i.e. more but smaller fires.)
      Maybe Bolsonaro is not towing the Neoliberal line sufficiently and is being picked on by MSM. or he is safe enough to be thrown under the bus before the G7 summit to make a lot of greenwashing noise, which like the smoke, will eventually blow over.
      The chart at
      https://off-guardian.org/wp-content/medialibrary/main-qimg-bc44dd981735439142d83027bf10220b.png
      Shows just how spurious these reports are, with 2019 figures to August 21 being only a little over half some earlier years and the ANNUAL burning season only just started.
      DO please be careful whose agenda you are being sucked into when you write please!
      Remember the principle of publicising some alleged emergency to then override human rights in order to correct it!

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