Brazil’s Amazon gutted by record-setting wave of fires as Bolsonaro claims “rainforest can’t burn”

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The Brazilian Amazon rainforest is being gutted by a new, record-setting wave of severe fires, threatening further environmental calamities one year after vast fires sparked global outrage toward the Brazilian government’s mismanagement of the region.

Over the past month alone, government monitors registered at least 20,473 fires across the sensitive region. In only the first two weeks of August, Brazil’s space agency INPE also recorded 15,000 fires.

On Tuesday, environmentalist group Greenpeace blasted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his attacks on environmental regulations and consistent siding with industrial interests driving the fires in the Amazon.

“Bolsonaro’s administration has continued to systematically dismantle environmental protection and has undermined the work of environmental law enforcement agencies,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, Amazon campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil, in a statement. “Bolsonaro’s supposed fire ban has already been undermined by Bolsonaro himself. Sending troops to the Amazon is just a PR stunt and a waste of resources.”

Greenpeace also released dramatic video it recorded from a flyover of live fires in the Amazon region.

Critics of the far-right president have blasted Bolsonaro for encouraging the illegal deforestation of the rainforest while expressing a hostile attitude toward the environment and Indigenous peoples whose ancestral land lies in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro and his officials regularly blame environmental laws, activist groups, NGOs and Indigenous peoples for allegedly hindering Brazil’s economic potential.

Since his election in 2018, Bolsonaro has vowed to open the Amazon to economic development, unleashing a wave of human-caused fires meant to illegally clear one of the world’s most biodiverse regions so that it can be exploited by miners, cattle ranchers, loggers, and big agricultural interests.

“Crime took over the Amazon, encouraged by the Bolsonaro administration itself,” Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, said in a statement.

Last week, Bolsonaro blasted back at his critics, claiming that the data produced by his own government showing the thousands of fires across the region are a “lie.”

“Tropical rainforest doesn’t catch fire,” Bolsonaro said. “So this story that the Amazon is burning is a lie, and we have to fight it with real numbers.”

However, damning satellite data from INPE shows that the number of forest fires in the Brazilian rainforest have dramatically risen by 28 percent from July 2019 to 6,803.

Last month, the Bolsonaro administration instituted a three-month “moratorium” on fires in the region after troops were deployed there earlier this year to prevent the fires from being started. The move came after the far-right leader became the focus of international condemnation over the rising destruction of the world’s largest rainforest.

Critics have excoriated the Brazilian leader for the ineffective measures and blamed him for the uncontrolled blazes in the region.

“The figures show that banning fires alone doesn’t work,” Mazzetti said. “It is essential to enhance monitoring and enforcement capacity of experienced agencies in order to really curb environmental destruction. But Bolsonaro´s administration has continued to systematically dismantle environmental protection and undermine the work of such agencies.”

Experts have warned that the Amazon rainforest is a crucial barrier to the catastrophic breakdown of global climate conditions. Without the Amazon rainforest, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could become out of control and drive global warming to intolerable levels while also changing rainfall patterns across the Western Hemisphere.

Yet the wave of economically-driven land clearing and fires hitting the Brazilian Amazon could push the region beyond the tipping point in a matter of years, rapidly converting the forest to savanna or grassland-style ecosystems.

“The explosion of deforestation in the Amazon has as an important cause – the discourse of the President, which delegitimizes environmental inspection while stimulating the occupation of the region in a predatory model,” said Suely Araújo, a senior specialist in public policy at the Brazilian Climate Observatory, in a statement. “Who profits from this is the illegal logger, the land grabber, the investor in uncontrolled mining that exploits slave labor.”

Brenda Brito, associate researcher at the Brazilian nonprofit Imazon, also warned that “it will be difficult to contain deforestation if the government continues with its intention to change land legislation and legalize deforested and illegally invaded areas. Land grabbing is a vector of deforestation, which is encouraged with the expectation of amnesty and legalization.”

Fires have also risen dramatically on Indigenous lands, with Greenpeace reporting a 78 percent increase of fires being set on Munduruku people’s land.

The fires also coincide with the raging coronavirus pandemic, threatening suffering communities and patients with increased smoke and soot that exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19.

“Instead of combating criminal behavior and protecting Indigenous forest guardians already hit hard by COVID-19, this government continues to reduce environmental protection and ally itself with those who want to destroy the forest,” Mazzetti said.

Critics believe the prospects that the Brazilian government will change tack in its reckless approach to the Amazon.

“Crime took over the Amazon, encouraged by the Bolsonaro administration itself,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory