Fires have been raging at a record rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for weeks, threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen in a disaster that activists say could drive further climate change.
There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year (with more than half in its Amazon region), and satellite images have spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the county — mostly in the Amazon basin — since Aug. 15, according to CNN and Reuters, both citing Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
The Amazon, known as “the planet’s lungs,” produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change, CNN notes.
The impact of the smoke can be felt in São Paulo, even though it’s more than 1,700 miles away from the rainforest, CNN reported.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest, and the fires this year represent an 83 percent increase over the same period of 2018, Reuters reported.
Organizers with the World Wildlife Fund have said that if the Amazon reaches “a point of no return,” it could begin emitting carbon, which is “the major driver for global climate change.”
Although officials have said that dry weather and natural factors are behind the massive fires ravaging Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, others are suggesting that humans are likely to blame.
Numerous environmentalists say the blazes, which have been burning at a record pace for weeks, threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen, were set by cattle ranchers and farmers in an attempt to clear the land for their own use, according to CNN.
“The vast majority of these fires are human-lit,” Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch, told the outlet, pointing out that the humid rainforest doesn’t catch fire easily.
“This year’s fires fit into an established seasonal agricultural pattern,” added CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. [Farmers] wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on down there.”
Activists have also blamed Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for the devastation, noting that the surge of fires began when he took office in January, according to Reuters.
Bolsonaro, who famously fired INPE leader Ricardo Galvão after Galvão spoke out about high deforestation rates, has vowed to explore the Amazon’s economic potential and condemned deforestation warnings that could interfere with trade negotiations.
According to many local media reports, last week numerous farmers organized a “fire day,” which was inspired by Bolsonaro’s words, Amazon Watch said in a statement, according to CNN.
Fires are “just the most visible symptom” of his policies, the Observatorio do Clima (Climate Observatory) said in a statement, the outlet reported.
“Just a little alert to the world: the sky randomly turned dark today in São Paulo, and meteorologists believe it’s smoke from the fires burning *thousands* of kilometers away, in Rondônia or Paraguay,” journalist Shannon Sims tweeted on Aug. 19. “Imagine how much has to be burning to create that much smoke(!). SOS.”