Amazon rainforest fires: What caused them and why activists are blaming Brazil’s president

Amazon rainforest fires: What caused them and why activists are blaming Brazil’s president

The Amazon rainforest, the vessel holding a massive amount of the world’s oxygen, is burning at a rate scientists have never seen before.The National

Lobo, guardian of the Amazon rainforest, killed by illegal loggers in Brazil
Rainfall could take weeks to extinguish Amazon rainforest fires, experts say
Amazon rainforest fires: What’s happening and how you can help

The Amazon rainforest, the vessel holding a massive amount of the world’s oxygen, is burning at a rate scientists have never seen before.The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has recorded more than 74,000 fires so far this year – an 84 per cent increase on the same period in 2018. It’s the highest number since records began in 2013.Story continues below

In comparison, 40,136 fires burned in the region last year. The second-worst year was 2016, with 68,484 fires.READ MORE: Sao Paulo shrouded in darkness as Amazon rainforest continues to burnThe Amazon is regarded as vital in the fight against global warming due to its ability to absorb carbon from the air. It’s often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth,” as more than 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen is produced there.Brazil has the biggest share of the 670 million hectares of forest (60 per cent), which is home to more species than anywhere else on the planet.But unlike in other ecosystems, scientists say the wildfires burning in the Amazon are not natural.

A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File Photo)

A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File Photo)Deforestation is considered the major contributing factor behind the alarming numbers.Environmentalists have also put the blame on President Jair Bolsonaro, saying his policies have only threatened the forest more.Bolsonaro has suggested that the data showing the increase in wildfires isn’t accurate — even going as far as to blame NGOs without evidence for starting fires. He said his government is working to control the fires, but it’s not clear what measures the administration is taking.“I am waiting for the next set of numbers, that will not be made up numbers,” he said. “If they are alarming, I will take notice of them in front of you.”What is causing the fires?While wildfires in the Amazon are not entirely uncommon, the way they are spreading is driving concern.The Amazon rainforest has been “fire-resistant” for much of its history because of its natural environment, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but can go through hot spells.While drought can be a factor in rainforest fires, INPE researchers have said there is nothing abnormal about the climate or rainfall amounts in the Amazon this year.“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” INPE research Alberto Setzer told Reuters.Human activities — farming, mining and drilling — are what scientists say are exacerbating the situation now.WATCH: Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest exceeds 88% in June

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