Why is the Amazon Rainforest on Fire?

In this Aug. 20, 2019, drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, said the country has seen a record number of wildfires this year. (Photo: Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, AP)

The Amazon is burning at an alarming rate as tens of thousands of fires lay waste to the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research said there have been 74,155 fires in the Amazon this year as of Tuesday, according to its satellite data: an 84% increase from the same period last year.

The Amazon is often called “the lungs of the world,” absorbing greenhouse gases that would otherwise harm the planet. It also is home to a number of indigenous people who rely on the forest’s resources.

Here’s why it’s on fire and why it’s become such a big problem.

Why is the Amazon on fire?

People who want to clear land in the Amazon for business prospects are cutting down portions of the forest, leaving them out to dry and setting them on fire. With the trees out of the way, they have room to grow agriculture or to raise cattle.

This practice is illegal but is not being monitored by Brazil’s government, according to Nigel Sizer, chief program officer of Rainforest Alliance. Not only is the government turning the other way, President Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging the practice, Sizer said.

“With confidence, we can say that a lot of that is illegal and is happening because the government has given the nod to illegal clearing and burning across the Amazon,” Sizer said. “The president has even encouraged the invasion of indigenous territories and areas that the previous administrations have really been working hard to protect.”

Bolsonaro has blamed environmental nonprofits for acting as obstacles in his mission to further develop Brazil’s economy. His administration has eased protections of areas such as the Amazon, making way for people to damage the rainforest.

In response to the staggering increase in wildfires this year, Bolsonaro, without evidence, suggested nongovernmental organizations could be starting them to make his administration look bad. He took office Jan. 1 of this year.

“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters.

When asked to provide evidence, he gave none.

“There is a war going on in the world against Brazil, an information war,” Bolsonaro said.

Sizer, who has worked in the Amazon the past 30 years, says previous Brazilian administrations have been environmentally conscious and successfully decreased the rate of deforestation. With this president, though, he’s worried about what’s to come.

“It takes a while for people to react and respond and what we’re seeing now is the first wave of that,” Sizer said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers get a lot of worse if the government does not change course.”

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Source: USA Today