In Brazil, president Bolsonaro, who calls himself "captain chainsaw", is actively promoting the deforestation of the rain forest for commercial exploitation. The fires ravaging through the rain forest now are a direct consequence of his policies. This year's fires are up by more than 80% over last year's and we still haven't reached the end of the season.
The Amazon rain forest is essential for the global climate. It is also a huge carbon sink. Due to the fires and the subsequent commercial land use, the Amazon is turned from a carbon sink into a carbon source.
Theoretically, it's still possible to control man-made climate change if we reach an international consensus to take robust action. The rise of right-wing populism is making this task virtually impossible.
That was a message São Paulo-based journalist Shannon Sims tweeted on 20 August. That was roughly a week after the first news about a surge in forest fires in the Amazon was broken, followed by six continuous days of unrelenting fires in the region. Scientists have declared it a "record rate" of the fire's spread. A warning has since been issued: the burning forest could strike a devastating blow to the global fight against climate change. Potentially, the fires could be something the world doesn't recover from.
Ironically, the Amazon rainforest has been “fire-resistant” for much of its history. This, simply because of the kind of forest it is, receiving rain and staying moist through most of the year. That said, it does also go through hot spells, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said, and drought is an established fuel for wildfires. There is nothing abnormal about the climate or rainfall amounts in the Amazon this year, INPE researchers have said.
Environmental groups in Brazil have been campaigning for years to save the rainforest. More recently, they have blamed President Bolsonaro for having endangered the vital rainforest by relaxing restrictions and "openly encouraging deforestation". The Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia (IPAM) said that it found no evidence to suggest that a lack of rain could have caused the fires, and that deforestation was the primary driver for the fire's reach.
"The dry season creates favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters. "The fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation," said Ane Alencar, scientific director of IPAM.
Research has shown that indigenous management of forests, which has shrunk dramatically in Amazonia since Bolsonaro took office, is the best approach to maintain the health of rainforests, anywhere in the world. In Brazil, which is home to two-thirds of the rainforest, the President, Jair Bolsonaro, has likened indigenous Amazonian reserves to "chickenpox" on the land.
To top it off, an invasion of human activity — farming, mining, and drilling — are exacerbating what was a bad situation to begin with in Brazil. Fears surrounding deforestation continue have grown under Bolsonaro, who appears to be blatantly ignoring international concerns over deforestation and climate change.
The 'Planet's Lungs' are burning
The Amazon rainforest is often referred to as the planet's lungs for producing 20 percent of atmospheric oxygen on the Earth. At roughly two and a half times the size of India, is the largest rainforest on the planet, and home to uncountable species of fauna and flora. It's no surprise that Amazonia is among the most important and vital ecosystems int the world to slow global warming.
The majority – over two-thirds – of the rainforest falls in Brazil, where there have been a total of 72,843 fires this year. Over half of these have been in the Amazon region, according to the INPE – an 80+ percent increase compared to the same period last year. While that sounds like an inordinate number of fires for any single region, here's some perspective: Last year, this same region saw 40,136 fires burn. The second-worst year on record after 2019 was 2016, over which 68,484 fires.
Unlike most other ecosystems, wildfires raging in the Amazon are unnatural, scientists think. The recent surge in deforestation rates in the region is considered a major contributing factor behind the alarming numbers. Environmentalists have pinned the blame on the country's President Jair Bolsonaro, calling out policy after policy directed by the President that have threatened the forest more than it already is.
Bolsonaro has taken a controversial pro-business stance ever since he rolled into office on 1 January, making several promises. Among them were actions to restore Brazil's economy by finding other uses for the Amazon forest. He vowed that if elected, he would not set aside a "single centimetre" more land for indigenous reserves.
He has expressed disdain for conserving the rainforest, favoring industrial growth relentlessly. Emboldened loggers, farmers, miners, ranchers and other developers have flocked the Amazon brazenly in response, logging at undeveloped forest land, the bulk of which is indigenous territory. The nation's environmental enforcement agency has had its budgets slashed by $23 million, according to a CNN report.
Adding insult to injury, Bolsonaro went ahead and called the recent wave of fires in the Amazon the handiwork of local environmental NGOs.
"Crime exists, and we need to make sure that this type of crime does not increase. We took money away from the NGOs. They are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding," he said. So, maybe the NGO-types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing."
Organizations like Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund have warned that if the Amazon reaches a point of no return, the rainforest could become a dry savannah, no longer habitable, let alone remain vital and biodiverse. The forest could become a large-scale carbon-emitter, where it was once a carbon sink, becoming a powerful driver of climate change.