The Fires Burning Up The Amazon — An Explainer

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Wild forest fires are often unpredictable and nearly unstoppable forces of nature. Right now, a vast area of the Amazon Rainforest is ablaze. The fire is spreading so fast that, according to reports from the BBC, a football field is incinerated every minute. This has been going on for over three weeks and even longer along the fringes of the world’s lungs (the Amazon Rainforest accounts for 20 percent of the entire planet’s oxygen).

So what the hell is going on? Also, why was the Amazon Rainforest only trending on Twitter for the first time yesterday? We explore.

The Political Side Of The Matter

Brazil’s newly elected leader, Jair Bolsonaro, campaigned on reopening the Brazilian Rainforest for industrialization. He even went so far as to promise he’d take away all Indigenous territories and “give guns” to ranchers, loggers, and miners. It was dire campaign rhetoric from a far-right candidate. The thing is, he seems to be doing exactly what he promised.

Life for Brazil’s Indigenous populations has been devastated. And, within a week, Brazil’s parliament will vote on whether to take all rights away from Indigenous landholders and give agribusiness and the mineral extraction industry a “legal” right to take whatever they want from whomever they want.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Amazon Rainforest burning down at alarming rates? Well, basically, farmers, loggers, and miners are simply clearing the land of forest, animals, and people with the instrument of fire. They’re emboldened, no doubt, by Bolsonaro and his cadre of comrades. In short, their tactic is to clear the land and displace the Indigenous population is uncontrolled wildfire.

Why You Should Care

First off, we sort of need the Amazon to survive on this planet. As mentioned above, the forest produces 20-percent of all oxygen that we breathe. That’s before we even get to how losing a forest that big will accelerate extremes in weather around the globe and the melting of the ice caps, which is already happening at breakneck speeds.

Yes, the forest has been on fire before. However, according to reliable resources reported on by the BBC, this year has already seen “74,000 fires between January and August — the highest number since records began in 2013.” Then, just in the last six days, there have been another “9,500 forest fires” reported, also according to the BBC. To put that in perspective, that’s double the number of fires from last year and we’re not even in September yet (when parts of Brazil inch closer to their summer).

What Now?

We’d really like to end this on a positive note. But, well, there aren’t many to find in this story. Bolsonaro has taken to blaming the NGOs who were there protecting the forests in his speeches with no evidence to support his claims whatsoever according to reporting from The Guardian. Bolsonaro has also fired the head of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute for drawing attention to the massive acceleration of deforestation happening in Brazil and the ensuing wildfires.

The only silver lining seems to be that people are starting to take note outside of Brazil as information trickles out. Yesterday, #AmazonRainforest started to trend on Twitter and Instagram has been filling with calls for action to stop the fires.

What will come of the online outcry? As sad as it is to admit, at this point, we really don’t know.