amazon fires
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
September 3, 2020 ·  4 min read

Amazon tragedy repeats itself as Brazil rainforest goes up in smoke

Last year, the world watched in horror as “the Earth’s Lungs”- the Amazon Rainforest- went up in flames. More than 72 thousand fires ripped through the region, an 84 percent increase from the year prior [1].

Public outcry from around the world demanded for changes to be made in order to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Celebrities, public figures, government officials, and citizens all got involved with the movement, putting pressure on the Brazilian government to do something.

Unfortunately, it appears that these messages were largely ignored, and this year the rainforest is on fire again- only this time it’s possibly worse.

The Amazon Fires: 2019 Vs. 2020

So far in 2020, there have been almost as many fires in the Amazon as last year. Satellite images from Brazil’s space agency, Inpe, detected more than 7600 fires in the Amazonas during the month of August, nearly one thousand more than last year and the highest number since 1998 [2].

More than 29 307 fires across the entire Amazon region were detected in August, only slightly less than the total numbers from 2019 (which were 30 900), and the second-highest total in the last ten years.

Thousands of troops were deployed in the region in May as a part of operation “Green Brazil 2”, which was meant to cut down on environmental crime in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s disaster, however according to the Associated Press, this has only made things worse.

According to public officials in Brazil, there have been no major raid against illegal activity since the operation began, and instead the rainforest has actually been opened to further exploitation [3].

Finally in July, in a bid to reassure the rest of the world that something was being done, the Brazilian government announced a four-month ban on burning. Sadly, this appears to have had little to no effect.

Read: Dozens of Creatures Thought to Be Extinct Found Alive in ‘Lost City’ in the Jungle

“The Amazon is Condemned to Destruction”

Those were the despairing words from a former official at Brazil’s weakening environmental agency, Ibama.

“Under this government there will be no combating [of rainforest destruction],” the ex-official said. “The future looks dark.” [2]

Since Jair Bolsanaro took office as the president of Brazil twenty months ago, the environmental situation in the country has worsened significantly. Many are blaming the president for the rainforest’s destruction, with good reason.

During Bolsanaro’s presidency, significant cuts to Brazil’s environmental agency have almost completely paralyzed its operations, making it near impossible for Ibama officials to effectively police the 2.1 million square miles of rainforest. 

This has opened up the supposedly “protected” area to illegal activity that has threatened the environment and contributed to the fires. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil has also made it easier for illegal activity to take place.

“Everyone – illegal loggers, land grabbers, illegal miners – they’re all up and running, and even more so than usual, safe in the knowledge that government inspections have been scaled back because of the pandemic,” said Rômulo Batista, a Greenpeace campaigner in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas [2].

Is this completely the fault of the Brazilian president?

While he certainly has made things much worse during his time in office, and has promoted the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming, and logging, he is not one hundred percent to blame.

The agricultural lobby in Brazil has steadily eroded the protection system that had been extremely effective up until 2014, and deforestation has been gradually increasing over the last five years under previous presidents as well. That being said, in the first eight months of Bolsanaro’s rule, deforestation accelerated rapidly [1].

In response to public outrage, Bolsanaro has responded much in the same way he has responded to his country’s COVID-19 outbreak: denial. In a speech last month to other South American Leaders, he challenged foreign representatives to fly over the Amazon, arguing they will find no flames.

“This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers,” he said [4].

A Global Enemy of the Environment

Carlos Rittl, a Brazilian environmentalist who works at Germany’s Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, says that this is the worst moment in Brazil in more than thirty years, and that sadly it was expected, thanks to a president who was elected based on his anti-environment rhetoric.

“Under Bolsonaro, Brazil is becoming perhaps the greatest global enemy of the environment. It is so sad to see,” he said. ”A tiny number of people grow very rich with this – and all of us lose.” [2]

Keep Reading: China is Turning the Rainforest into Cheap Furniture for the US