Why is the Amazon Rainforest burning?
The Amazon rainforest receives between 400 and 1200mm of rainfall per year, which makes naturally occurring fire quite rare. There have been some fires in years of severe drought, but there is no drought this year and the number of fires burning has increased by 84% vs this time in 2018. There is very strong evidence that people have set the rain forest on fire to clear land for agricultural use.
One particularly egregious example of this was the “Day of Fire” event planned over the Facebook app WhatsApp in the Brazilian State of Pará. Globo reported that it discovered a WhatsApp group containing more than 70 people who coordinated lighting fires by the side of a state highway. According to Globo, “Their intent was to show President Bolsonaro that they support his ideas of loosening Ibama’s (The Federal Environmental Agency in Brazil) oversight and perhaps obtaining forgiveness of fines for environmental violations.”
The smoke from the fires briefly enveloped the city of São Paulo, causing dark skies in the afternoon.
Source: MAXAR, shown in the Washington Post
Why are there so many Amazon fires happening now?
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has deliberately reduced enforcement of environmental laws. In fact, during his presidential campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and open up more of the Amazon for logging, farming, and mining.
According to the BBC, “Official data from Brazil’s environment agency shows fines from January to 23 August dropped almost a third compared with the same period last year. At the same time, the number of fires burning in Brazil has increased by 84%.” The BBC analysis of the Ibama data shows that the number of fines is now at the lowest level in the last decade:
What is being done about the Amazon fires?
So far, very little. At first, the Brazilian president accused NGOs of lighting the fires to make him look bad without citing any evidence, and then complained about his nicknames in the press- “Captain Chainsaw” and now “President Nero.” He also claimed that the fires were mostly burning in deforested areas. Globo investigated this and found that the fires are in fact burning in the rainforest.
Bolsonaro appeared to give into pressure yesterday and declared the was sending the armed forces to put out the fires, but has so far only sent two aircraft to combat the fires.
The international reaction has been mixed. President Macrón of France declared it an emergency and pledged to bring it up at the G7 meeting. He has held out the possibility of taking a hard line by making the trade deal with Mercosur (the South American Trade Federation) contingent on the improvement of Brazil’s environmental policies. Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson have expressed concern but have not proposed any actions.
As of this morning (8/25 AM), the G7 appears to be finalizing a deal to send financial and technical help to contain the fires and deforestation.
Donald Trump has a chummy relationship with Bolsonaro, and so far his reaction to the crisis has been to offer help to Bolsonaro put out the fires via Twitter without an actionable plan.
What can I do to help stop the Amazon fires and protect the Amazon rainforest from further deforestation?
- Donate to an environmental organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and others
- Sign petitions online to end the burning, such as this one to investigate the fires or this one to protect the indigineous and traditional communities of Amazon
- Write to your representatives in Congress
- Write to the leaders of other countries to demand action on this issue or thank them for taking action