The Amazon is Burning at Record Rates

August 22, 2019

No Relief

There’s little prospect of a sudden change in the weather putting out the fires. Brazil has been drier than normal and there doesn’t look to be any real relief until the rainy season starts in December, said Jason Nicholls, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc in State College, Pennsylvania.

Any hope for an early start to the rainy season faded when an El Nino in the equatorial Pacific ended, Nicholls said. With the Pacific closer to normal it could even mean a delay for the annual onset of rains across the region.

“I really don’t see any prospects of the rainy season kicking in earlier,” Nicholls said. “There will be very little help from Mother Nature over the next two or three months or so.”

Fires are ravaging the Amazon, prompting fears over Brazil’s environmental policies and deforestation.

Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research says fires are occurring at the highest level it’s seen since records began 7 years ago.

According to INPE , as the institute is known, there have been 72,843 fires recorded in Brazil in 2019.  More than half of those were in the Amazon region.

The number of fires recorded was an 84 per cent increase over what was recorded in the same period in 2018.

For those living in the Amazon, the smoke is intense. Moises Fernandes, an agronomist and consultant in the state of Rondonia said that it’s been several days since he’s been able to see the river that lies just 450m away from his apartment.

These aren’t wildfires, which can help a forest regenerate. The fires there are mainly caused by landowners in the region recovering their fields.

“The small-scale producer is the one burning,” he said. “He burns because he doesn’t have access to technology, means of production, technical assistance so he winds up doing that.”

Fernandes says that oversight has decreased over recent years but the problem is not new, and not limited to this government.

“It’s normal to see fires at the end of the dry season,” Celso Oliveira, a meteorologist from Somar Meteorologia in Sao Paulo, said, adding that many parts of the country had gone three to six months without rain.

“But there are also many fires caused by people clearing pasture and planting soybeans. There’s a lot of pressure on the Amazon region.

Environmentalists, however, are blaming deforestation.

INPE found 958 square kilometres of Amazon forest were lost in June, an 88 per cent increase from the same month last year.

That data led to the firing of the agency’s director, with Brazil’s president accusing the organisation of manipulating data to make him look bad.

Ricardo Mello, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Amazon Program, told the BBC the fires were “a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures”.

Pressure builds on Bolsonaro

The fires have intensified domestic and international scrutiny of President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policies.

Bolsonaro has come under intense pressure to contain the spread of the record number of fires in the Amazon, many of them set by loggers incentivised by his government.

Much of the pressure stems from the apocalyptic darkness that descended on the megalopolis of Sao Paulo on Monday afternoon (local time), unnerving locals and triggering a fierce debate between meteorologists and climatologists over its exact cause.

It prompted the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia, which has dominated social media in Brazil over the past few days.

Some researchers argued the hazy gloom was a result of a combination of a cold front over the city coupled with smoke from fires in the Amazon, more than 1600km away.

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