The Amazon is burning at an alarming rate in Brazil with 72,843 fires detected so far this year by the country’s space research center INPE. That amounts to an 83 percent increase over the same period in 2018 and the highest number since the agency started recording fires in 2013, meaning it is likely the highest number of fires to date. The sudden spike has prompted renewed concern that the destruction of the Amazon basin is the result of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policies that don’t give much thought to the environment at all. The smoke from the fires has been so bad that when carried by the wind it caused an hourlong blackout in nearby São Paulo.
The right-wing populist Bolsonaro, who has shown disdain for protecting the Amazon—home to 3 million species of plants and animals and 1 million or so people—came to power in January. The Bolsonaro regime has reversed previous governments’ efforts to enforce environmental regulations and protect what is the largest rainforest in the world. “Over the past decade, previous governments had managed to reduce deforestation with action by federal agencies and a system of fines. But Mr Bolsonaro and his ministers have criticised the penalties and overseen a fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes,” the BBC reports. “Last month, the far-right president accused Inpe’s director of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon and trying to undermine the government. It came after Inpe published data showing an 88 percent increase in deforestation there in June compared to the same month a year ago.” Conversely, NASA has reported overall fire activity in the Amazon basin has been slightly below average.
“Since Thursday, INPE said satellite images spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world’s largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming,” Reuters reports. “Wildfires have increased in Mato Grosso and Para, two states where Brazil’s agricultural frontier has pushed into the Amazon basin and spurred deforestation. Wildfires are common in the dry season, but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.”
Bolsonaro dismissed alarm over the latest data, saying it was simply the season that farmers use open fires to clear farmland. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” he said.