The world is looking on aghast as the Amazon rainforest burns with reckless abandon. The forest—which is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet” due to producing 20 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere—has seen a shocking uptick in the number of fires this year, with some 73,000 blazes recorded so far in 2019, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). That represents an 83 percent increase in fires in comparison with last year, and is the highest number witnessed since Inpe records began in 2013.

What’s more, the flames show no signs of stopping. Satellite images have spotted over 9,500 new fires in the last seven days, and many local firefighters have given up trying to extinguish them.

</p> <p>The dry season is always the peak time for forest fires in the Amazon. Between July and November, weather conditions favor the spreading of flames. Once a blaze is started, it can be difficult to put out. However, while fires in the Amazon region are sometimes caused by mistake, experts believe the recent wave of destruction is overwhelmingly deliberate.</p> <iframe src="https://infoamazonia.org/en/embed/?map_only=1&#038;map_id=3502&#038;width=960&#038;height=480&#038;lat=-11.178401873711772&#038;lon=-51.1083984375&#038;zoom=5" width="960" height="480" frameborder="0"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Deforestation</h2> <p>The understanding among academics and specialists is that the increase in fires is linked to the rise in deforestation. When clearing forested land for farming or extractive activities, the old trees are burned to create space for these new pursuits. With a dry climate, these fires tend to spread.</p> <p>A statement from the Institute of Amazonian Environmental Research (Ipam) showed that the ten municipalities which have registered the highest numbers of forest fires correspond closely to the ten municipalities with the highest levels of deforestation. Below, we have taken a selection of these cities and showed just how much their landscape has changed over the past decades.</p> <iframe src="https://infoamazonia.org/en/embed/?map_only=1&#038;map_id=49&#038;width=960&#038;height=480" width="960" height="480" frameborder="0"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Amazon destruction</h2> <p>The extent of the fire damage has yet to be fully measured. Blazes have spread into preserved territory, such as indigenous lands and conservation areas. The <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/scienceandhealth/2019/08/wave-of-fires-in-brazil-hits-68-protected-areas-this-week.shtml">Ilha Grande National Park</a>, for instance—situated on the boundary of the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná—has seen 62 percent of its forest destroyed, corresponding to an area three times the size of Paris.</p> <p>On Monday, skies in the south-eastern city of São Paulo turned abnormally dark in the middle of the afternoon, causing many to speculate that a smoke cloud from the Amazonian blazes had made its way thousands of kilometers away to the country&#8217;s biggest city. Meteorologists promptly said that the darkness was caused by a cold front which produced extremely thick low cloud, but that the distant fires may indeed have contributed to the apocalyptic afternoon scene.</p> <h2>Denial</h2> <p>Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, President Jair Bolsonaro made the outrageous affirmation that fires in the Amazon region were being started deliberately by &#8220;NGOers&#8221; in an attempt to show him up on the international stage. Without providing any proof of his allegation, the president brazenly lied to the public as an attempt to save face.</p> <p>To the contrary, Amazon experts have blamed the wave of fires on Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s permissive attitude toward deforestation and the weakening of all forms of environmental oversight in the region.</p> <p>Speaking to newspaper <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em>, Arnaldo Carneiro Filho of the National Institute of Amazon Research (Inpa) said that Jair Bolsonaro passed on this message of Amazonian expansion during his campaign visits to the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso—the epicenter of this wave of forest fires.</p> <p>&#8220;He signaled toward expanding over the Amazon, over indigenous lands, he questioned conservation units. He gave a signal of &#8216;go ahead, this is your chance,&#8217; to this public associated with deforestation,&#8221; Mr. Carneiro Filho explained.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h4>Biomass burning aerosol optical depth at 550nm </h4> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/615670"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Indeed, a local newspaper in the south-west of the state of Pará reported that farmers had organized a “Fire Day” for August 10, when local producers “backed up by the words of President Jair Bolsonaro” torched areas undergoing deforestation in a coordinated action to show the president they are willing to work. On this day, Inpe’s fire alert system saw the number of blazes rise 300 percent, and the region was shrouded in smoke for the subsequent days.</p> <p>The most common tactic of controlling deforestation used by previous governments in Brazil was monitoring areas and applying fines to those who violated the rules. However, since taking office, Jair Bolsonaro has criticized the oversight agencies responsible for the Amazon and claimed they are fueled by ideology, and policing of the rainforest region has dropped considerably.</p> <p>As a consequence, dozens of NGOs have called for Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to be investigated for misconduct in office.</p> <h2>Dieback</h2> <p>Data from Inpe has shown that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen more than 88 percent in June—in comparison with the same month in 2018—and 15 percent overall in the last 12 months. These figures were questioned by Jair Bolsonaro, in a squabble which resulted in the firing of Inpe director Ricardo Galvão.</p> <p>Recently, Norway and Germany both pulled portions of their transfers to the Amazon Fund in light of worsening deforestation statistics. The fund is used to finance preservation projects in the Amazon region. Once again, Mr. Bolsonaro was dismissive of this news, saying that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should &#8220;take that money and reforest Germany.&#8221;</p> <p>The longer this deterioration continues, the closer the Amazon edges towards the devastating cycle known as dieback. When a certain proportion of the forest is destroyed (scientists reckon that another fifth of the Amazon will suffice to spark the process), the region will be beyond salvation. The forest will begin to dry out and burn, while the Amazonian biodiversity will perish.

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.