Record Number of Fires Scorching Amazon Rainforest

(CN) – Brazil’s Amazon rainforests – the so-called lungs of planet Earth – are being scorched by fire and a new report shows the infernos raging there have hit an all-time high.

The Brazil-based National Institute for Space Research issued a report Tuesday which found that 72,843 fires have been detected in the Amazon so far this year. Since last Thursday, some 10,000 new fires have been spotted in and around the basin of the Amazon rainforest, which is home to 10% of the world’s known species, including at least 40,000 different plant species.

(Photo via Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research)

The uptick marks an 83% increase in fires impacting the region since this time last year.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has waved away criticism that he has done nothing to quell the fires. On Wednesday, during a Facebook live stream, Bolsonaro claimed without citing any evidence that nonprofit organizations, like NGOs, are purposefully setting the fires to shame his administration.

Bolsonaro said “everything indicates” the organizations set fire to the forest. When asked for evidence, he said there was “no written plan” he could provide, according to a Reuters report.

“That’s not how it is done,” Bolsonaro said just before suggesting that the fires were set out of spite from nonprofits “missing the money” the Brazilian government cut from their purses this year.

The Brazilian president has consistently vowed to develop pristine areas of the Amazon since taking office in January. He’s stocked his administration’s cabinet with officials representing the agribusiness industry as well as those who have been highly critical of the Paris climate agreement or have denied climate change outright.

“I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada,” Bolsanaro told reporters during a press conference Tuesday.

A quiemada is the period in which local farmers clear the land through fire.

Bolsanaro’s claim is highly controversial, according to the National Institute for Space Research, or INPE. In a statement Tuesday, researcher Alberto Setzer confirmed that the climate in the Amazon over the last year has been normal and rainfall was just barely below average.

“The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” Setzer told Reuters.

A state of emergency has been in place for weeks in the state of Amazonas, an area covering roughly 606,000 square miles and made up almost entirely of lush rainforest.

NASA satellites have spotted smoke covering at least 1.2 million square miles. The BBC reported Monday that thanks to fires in another Brazilian state, Rondonia, smoke blotted out the sun temporarily in Sao Paulo, a city over 1,000 miles away.

Smoke is now billowing over Brazil’s borders into nearby Peru and Bolivia.

The INPE indicated last month that deforestation rates in the Amazon have skyrocketed by almost 300% compared to last year. Bolsonaro responded to the report by firing the head of the agency, saying the findings were “lies.” A Brazilian military official was promptly appointed to fill the vacancy.

The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. According to the INPE, over one and a half soccer field sized areas of the forest are destroyed every minute. If destruction of the rainforest continues, a tipping point will eventually be reached, according to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund.

When the forest is utterly depleted, desert-like brush tends to grows in its place. But that brush is nowhere near as oxygen-efficient as the trees in the rainforest, which trap the carbon dioxide that warms the atmosphere. According to the Rainforest Foundation U.S., rainforests in Peru alone trap enough CO2 to match the emissions pumped out by all cars driven in the United States.

A 2017 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that an aggressive worldwide campaign against deforestation could put humans much closer to maintaining a global temperature increase below 2-degrees Celsius, a threshold which the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world cannot exceed without seeing massive destabilization sweep the planet.

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