DISCUSSION: Why is the Amazon on fire?

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The Amazon is burning at a record rate, according to researchers.

Environmentalists have placed blame for the fires on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

  • Watch the Friday morning discussion above.

Here are the key points:

The Amazon

  • The rainforest produces 20% of the oxygen in Earth's atmosphere and is often referred to as the planet's lungs
  • It is the largest rainforest on Earth—about half the size of the US.
  • It is a carbon store considered to be vital in slowing global climate change.
  • More than two thirds of the rainforest lies in Brazil.

Burning at a record rate

  • Brazil has experienced more than 74,000 wildfires so far this year, the majority occurring in the Amazon, according to Brazil's space research center ( INPE ).
    • This is an 80% increase compared with the same period last year.
  • More than 9,500 new fires have sparked up over the past week.
  • Images on social media showed plumes of smoke causing a daytime blackout in Sao Paulo, a city more than 1,700 miles from the Amazon.
  • NASA noted earlier this month that the fires were visible from space.


  • Wildfires are common during the dry season as farmers illegally burn land for crop growing and cattle ranching, but this year's surge is unprecedented, researchers say .
  • According to INPE researchers:
    • There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year in the Amazon.
    • The dry season creates favorable conditions for the spread of fire, but it is humans that start the fires.
  • More rainforest was lost to deforestation this year than the past three years combined, according to INPE .

Environmentalists blame Bolsonaro

  • Jair Bolsonaro took office as Brazil's 38th president in January 2019.
  • He campaigned on promises to open Brazil's protected lands to commercial exploitation.
  • Bolsonaro's government has pulled back on environmental measures meant to protect areas like the Amazon. These include:
    • Fines
    • Warnings
    • Seizure or destruction of illegal equipment
  • Such enforcement actions fell by 20% in the first half of 2019, compared with the same period last year, according to the New York Times .
  • Bolsonaro has dismissed INPE data showing an increase in deforestation this year as "lies."
  • Environmentalists say Bolsonaro's government has encouraged developers to exploit the rainforest like never before—this includes burning land.

Igniting Global Outrage, Brazil's Bolsonaro Baselessly Blames NGOs for Amazon Fires [article]

  • Bolsonaro on Wednesday accused non-governmental organizations of setting the fires to hurt his government's reputation.
  • Bolsonaro gave no evidence to back up his claims.
  • Environmental and climate experts have called his claims a "smoke screen" to hide his government's dismantling of protections for the rainforest.

As Amazon burns, Brazil's Bolsonaro tells rest of world not to interfere [article]

  • After facing international criticism over his government's handling of the rainforest, Bolsonaro told other nations Thursday not to interfere.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron: "Our house is burning. Literally…It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days!"
  • Germany and Norway, citing Brazil's lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, withheld more than $60 million for sustainability projects in Brazil's rainforests.
  • Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Friday that Ireland would try to block a free trade deal with Brazil unless action was taken to protect the rainforest.

About the Author:

Brian is an Associate Producer for ClickOnDetroit. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in Journalism and Screen Studies.