Amazon fires
The Hearty Soul
The Hearty Soul
August 21, 2019 · 7 min read

Wildfires Are Ravaging the Amazon Forest So Badly That They Can Be Seen From Outer Space

A stream of smoke so thick the sun has been blotted out, plunging São Paulo and other Brazilian cities into darkness.

The Amazon is burning up at an alarming rate, and no effective actions have been taken to get it under control for three weeks now [1]. Brazilian citizens and government agencies have taken to social media to share images and videos of thick, black smoke rising out of the largest rainforest in the world, so dense that it can be seen from outer space. 

Assessing the fire damage internationally has proven to be a bit hard. Some of the images being uploaded on news websites and social media are either from old Amazonian fires or from places not even remotely close to Brazil or South America. However, images from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), a part of the European Union’s Earth observation program, show that the fires are spreading toward the Atlantic Coast. The forest is under massive, progressive destruction.

One of the most horrifying images shows a thick cloud of black smoke engulfing São Paulo, Brazil’s center of finance, a city that’s over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away from the forest. Strong winds are sending the unceasing smoke from the forest to sit over the city, plunging it into total darkness even during the day.

There are serious health risks to citizens inhabiting the area. Some meteorologists, however, are saying that the smoke in Sao Paulo is coming from wildfires in Paraguay and not the Amazon. But it’s difficult to imagine how heavily Paraguay would be burning to plunge a city as large as São Paulo into darkness on a Monday afternoon.

“Two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas in the northwest of the country declared a state of emergency in response to an increase in the number of fires there… Various fires have also been burning in the state of Mato Grosso, according to satellite imagery,” News Week reported [2]. There is no one reason for the fires. First, July and August are the start of the dry season, which increases the risk for accidental fires. Second, there are also purposeful fires set for heat to clear land for agricultural purposes. Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: The forest is on the verge of major destruction and it can have major environmental impacts.

The INPE predicted the fires but was dismissed

60% of the rainforest is located in Brazil, with other regions spanning across Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, and France (French Guiana). The Amazon has always been a fire-resistant rainforest due to its thick forestry and high levels of year-round humidity and [3] It supplies roughly 10%* of the oxygen on earth and about a sixth of all the oxygen produced from land plants [4]. Currently, in Brazil, the northern states of Roraima, Acre, Rondônia, and Amazonas are most affected by the fires. 

*Note: A 20% figure is often quoted, but this is incorrect. The figure, while much lower at roughly 10% [4], is still impressive. Most of the world’s oxygen is actually produced by sea plants such as plankton. 70% of the worlds O2 comes from the ocean, while 28% comes from rainforests. The remaining 2% comes from other sources [9]. This is also why the term, ‘Lungs of the earth’, that is being used to describe the forest, is not entirely accurate. Regardless of these factual errors, the fires in the Amazon are still of great concern.

Home to millions of plants and animal species, the Amazon is one of the earth’s most major defenses against global warming. However, in recent times, human activities and frequent droughts have led to an increase in the rate of wildfires across the forest. 

Just a few weeks ago, the director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), Ricardo Galvão was fired for defending research data that showed the alarming rates of deforestation in Brazil [5].

The INPE has been tracking wildfires in the Amazon since 2013, and their satellites recorded 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, an 84 percent increase from last year’s records, which was about 40,000 fires within the same period of the year [6]. The fire frequency increased 114% in Roraima, 138% in Acre, 115% in Rondonia, and 81% in Amazonas. The majority of these fires are happening in a rainforest that’s home to over one million indigenous people.

The #PrayForAmazonia movement kicked off on social media when satellite images confirmed that about a football pitch of vegetation is lost every minute. The INPE director called out the president for encouraging farmers and loggers to continuously use fires as a means of clearing out the land. According to observations made on their satellites, the INPE ruled that deforestation was 278% higher in July 2019 when compared to the same period last year.

The president didn’t take this lightly at all and proceeded to fire the director. He insisted that he didn’t need German aid to control the situation, as Brazil is fully capable of handling her problems.

 “You have to understand that the Amazon is Brazil’s, not yours,” Bolsonaro said about the INPE’s data, as reported by The Guardian. “If all this devastation you accuse us of doing was done in the past the Amazon would have stopped existing, it would be a big desert.”

The President is being blamed for encouraging deforestation

According to the Reuters News Agency, the President dismissed the data as exaggerated and falsified, saying that it’s that season of the year when farmers use fires to clear the land [8]. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada,” he said.

Later, in a live broadcast on Facebook, he went ahead to blame the fires on disgruntled non-governmental organizations around the country. He slashed their funding when he took over the country this January, and he claims they set the fires to take vengeance on his government.

“So, there could be…I’m not affirming it, criminal action by these ‘NGOers’ to call attention against my person, against the government of Brazil. This is the war that we are facing,” he said.

The INPE is not the only agency standing up to the president. Several other environmental groups are accusing the leader of encouraging deforestation and using the Amazon as propaganda for his campaign. He promised the masses that the economic potential of the rainforest would be fully explored in his regime. It’s gotten of control now South America, along with the rest of the world, is at great risk. 

The earth is in some major trouble

The World Wildlife Fund has issued clarion calls to world governments to lend their hands in getting the situation under control. If the Amazon continues to burn at this rate, it would turn into a charred savannah. This would cause much of the animal life to either be destroyed or forced to migrate, and the capacity for the rainforest to regulate carbon dioxide would be greatly diminished. The fires have released an estimated 228 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the highest recorded amount since 2010. Carbon monoxide, a more dangerous, lethal gas is also being released and is spreading.

However, the Bolivian government, having experienced the third-highest number of fires this year (more than 17,000) is stepping up to the situation with fire-fighting aids. They have fire-fighting aircrafts dropping down water at high pressure to the forest which stretches onto the eastern region of their country. Emergency aides have been sent to rescue trapped animals from the forest, and sanctuaries are being set up to conserve the wildlife.

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Brazil’s newly elected president plans to industrialize the Amazon and open it to more animal agriculture and mining. Bolsonaro remains intent on opening up the Amazon to the ranchers, miners and logging companies that supported his campaign and plans to eliminate Brazil’s Ministry of Environment. Bolsonaro plans to build a highway through the rainforest, which is also its road to destruction.

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  1. Jessie Yeung and Abel Alvarado. Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, research center says. CNN. Retrieved 21-08-19
  3. Admin. The Global Importance of Amazon Natural Resources. Amazon Aid. Retrieved 21-08-19
  4. Dom Philips. Bolsonaro declares ‘the Amazon is ours’ and calls deforestation data ‘lies’. The Guardian. Retrieved 21-08-19
  5. Jair Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of setting fires in Amazon rainforest
  6. Admin. Amazon fires: Record number burning in Brazil rainforest – space agency. BBC. Retrieved 21-08-19
  7. Lisandra Paraguassu. Amazon burning: Brazil reports record forest fires. Reuters. Retrieved 21-08-19