The rain forest, covering northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries, has had a record number of blazes this year – Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 74,000 fires in 2019, 84 per cent higher than in 2018.
While the figures are terrifying, the images are worse: NASA’s Worldview instrument online provides a chilling indictment of the state the region is currently in.
Every red dot in the below image represents a significant fire or thermal anomaly:
Further NASA images show the extent of the smoke cover from the fires across the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia.
August 2019 is continuing an active Amazon fire season, with large and intense fires burning in the region. @NASA satellites tracked actively burning fires across South America and captured images of smoke in the last week. https://t.co/EZKu01MPHg pic.twitter.com/VEoNZi2KJQ
— NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) August 23, 2019
The images come as President Jair Bolsonaro has authorised the use of military to help battle the infernos ravaging the rainforest. Despite saying previously the government lacked the resources to extinguish the blaze, the international outcry appears to have provoked a change of heart.
As reported by the MailOnline, Bolsonaro said:
The protection of the forest is our duty. We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon.
We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.
Bolsonaro signed the decree on Friday evening (August 23), after an emergency meeting with his cabinet. The decree states that Brazilian forces will be deployed to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions from today (August 24) to assist in combating fires for a month.
According to government data, the rain forest is burning at a pace of three football pitches a minute – sending the area racing towards an irreversible ‘tipping point’ it may never recover from.
The Amazon rain forest provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen and is considered ‘the lungs of the planet’. However, if it continues to be destroyed, not only would it stop producing this oxygen and supporting wildlife but it could create a series of ‘feedback loops’, known as a dieback, which would worsen climate change, Business Insider report.
If the Amazon got to a point where it was starved of oxygen, leaves wouldn’t be able to absorb as much carbon. As a result, we could see the release of the 140 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the rain forest into the atmosphere, which would cause global temperatures to rise further.
The spike in fire numbers has been attributed to an increasing number of droughts and human activities – for example, farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.
Professor Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University, told The Independent:
The reason we believe the tipping point is so close is because we’re seeing historic droughts in 2005, 2010, and 2016.
And satellite images in the north central Amazon also show forests remote from everything are beginning to convert into grassland. That’s yet another symptom.
As a result of the fires, Sao Paulo was plunged into darkness, as smoke from more than 1,700 miles away saw ‘day turned into night’ across the city.
Josélia Pegorim, Climatempo meteorologist, explained to Globo that the smoke ‘did not come from fires from the state of Sao Paulo, but from very dense and wide fires that have been going on for several days in Rondônia and Bolivia. The cold front changed the direction of the winds and transported this smoke to Sao Paulo.’
— Leandro Mota (@leandromota_) August 19, 2019
Bolsonaro is the biggest target in the global uproar. President Emmanuel Macron said recently that France will block an EU trade deal with Brazil over the country’s handling of fires.
Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, also indicated Ireland could try and block the EU trade deal, stating: ‘There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments’.
Recently leaked documents showed Bolsonaro to be supporting the devastation of the rainforest, claiming that a strong government presence is important to prevent any conservation projects going forward.
INPE published preliminary satellite data showing deforestation in the rainforest had accelerated in the first half of July to more than (400 square miles), a jump of 68 per cent compared to the entire month of July 2018 – though Bolsonaro claimed the data was false. He also fired the former head of INPE, Ricardo Galvao, over the data.
Millions of people across the world have rallied together to sign a petition urging the Brazilian government to ban the burning of the Amazon – you can sign the petition here.