AMAZON RAINFOREST, BRAZIL – The Brazilian Amazon Rainforest is currently experiencing an alarming and unprecedented surge in large-scale fires. Recent satellite data from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reveals that between May 28 and August 25, 2002, over 500 major forest fires ravaged approximately 912,000 acres of land. This is reminiscent of the extraordinary number of devastating wildfires that have plagued California this month.
In order to determine the severity of these fires, MAAP employs the aerosol index, which measures the presence of ash and smoke particles in the air. Alarmingly, nearly half of these forest fires occurred within the last two weeks. Among them, the most extensive occurred on August 17 in Northern Brazil, scorching a staggering 25,605 acres of land.
Unlike the naturally occurring lightning-induced fires currently devastating California, these forest fires were deliberately ignited by individuals seeking to clear land for various industries, including mining, soybean farming, and cattle ranching. Furthermore, the majority of these land clearings are carried out illegally by individuals affiliated with a long-established criminal network in Brazil.
According to Claudio Angelo, the head of communications for Brazil’s Climate Observatory, “Deforestation today has very strong ties to organized crime,” as he highlighted the alarming connection between deforestation and criminal activities.
Under Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation rates in the Amazon have skyrocketed. In response to mounting criticism, Bolsonaro implemented a four-month ban on starting fires in the rainforest. Additionally, in May, he deployed military forces to combat deforestation.
However, environmental activists argue that these actions are merely a ploy to gain public approval, shielding Bolsonaro’s true intention to open up even more of the Amazon to businesses. Between March and May, the Bolsonaro administration issued 195 decrees and ordinances aimed at dismantling environmental protections in Brazil.
This devastating deforestation not only threatens Brazil’s Amazon, home to one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems but also infringes upon the land rights of local Indigenous communities, displacing them from their ancestral territories that they depend on for survival.
Recent research by Human Rights Watch reveals that the fires are polluting the air, endangering the health of millions of people. The smoke generated by the fires is laden with harmful particulate matter, resulting in numerous respiratory illnesses. In 2019 alone, the fires led to the hospitalization of 2,195 individuals, including nearly 500 infants under the age of one, and affected more than 1,000 people over the age of 60.
These fires also have far-reaching global implications. As one of the Earth’s crucial carbon sinks, the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in mitigating climate change. However, due to deforestation and subsequent fires, the trees in the rainforest are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Simultaneously, the burning rainforests are releasing substantial amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. In as little as 15 years, the Amazon may actually become a net emitter of carbon, exacerbating the climate crisis.
Even if the deforestation were to cease immediately, it remains uncertain whether the Amazon rainforest would fully recover from the extensive damage inflicted upon it. However, there are clear solutions at hand. By reinstating environmental protections, halting corporate crimes, and granting full property rights to Brazil’s Indigenous communities, significant progress can be made in combatting deforestation. Such actions would not only help restore the Amazon but also uphold human rights. It is imperative that political leaders demonstrate the willpower necessary to address this urgent issue, while Bolsonaro’s administration refrains from engaging in any further foul play.