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Amazon Fires Catch the World's Attention

Even amid disagreement over just how bad they are
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2019 10:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's the dry season in Brazil, meaning wildfires are burning all over the country, including in the Amazon rainforest. In fact, the Brazilian agency in charge of monitoring fires—the National Institute for Space Research—reports that a record 74,155 blazes were burning as of this week, up 84% from this time last year, reports the AP. The three states most affected—Mato Grosso, Para, and Amazonas—all are in the Amazon region and account for 41.7% of those fires. The stats have conservationists outraged at the policies of the pro-development president, Jair Bolsonaro, who dismisses the criticism. Coverage:

  • Conservationists: They blame the fires on farmers and loggers and say Bolsonaro has encouraged them to clear land at a dangerous pace. "The fire that we're seeing today is a fire that's directly related to deforestation," says Ane Alencar of the Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia, per Quartz. "They cut the trees, leave the wood to dry, and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil."
  • Bolsonaro: "I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame," he tells Reuters. "But it is the season of the 'queimada,'" or burn. He even suggested environmental critics might be to blame for the fires. "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," he told reporters.

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  • Some confusion: Conflicting information is out there about the Amazon fires this year. The Quartz piece mentioned above, for example, begins, "The Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate." Environmental critics of the government say the same. But other sites are pointing to a stat out from NASA: "As of August 16, 2019, satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years." NASA, though, also released a satellite image showing smoke from space with this line: Although "it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity, time will tell if this year is a record-breaking [one]."
  • Not helping: Snopes notes that people are sharing years-old photos of Amazon fires and suggesting they're from this year, all while criticizing a lack of media coverage.
  • Bigger issue: The controversy highlights the ongoing fight between conservationists trying to save the Amazon, nicknamed the "lungs of the world," and Bolsonaro's pro-business administration. CNN has the background on that, reporting that environmentalists accuse farmers of coordinating recently on a "fire day" after being inspired by the president's language. Among other things, Bolsonaro has gutted the budget of the nation's environmental agency.
  • A firing: Last month, the head of Brazil's space research institute was fired after he disagreed with the president's contention that deforestation data had been manipulated to make the administration look bad. The data found that deforestation in June was 88% higher than the previous year.
  • A heckling: When the name of Brazil's environmental minister was announced Wednesday at the Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week forum in Salvador, Brazil, hecklers pounced, reports the BBC. Most of those in attendance booed and shouted at the mention of Ricardo Salles, according to the news agency.
(Read more Amazon rainforest stories.)

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