2019-08-22 19:36:301 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jair Bolsonaro (Image source: Public domain)
After last year's wildfires in California, the United States knows a little about the pain of going through raging fires that are completely out of control.
But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro isn't looking at the pain of battling the fires that are running through the Amazon — he's suggested that it's being staged by opponents to made him look bad, sounding a little like Donald Trump in the process.
He was asked about the fires that are raging in the Amazon, with the area that has burned having more than doubled in the past two years, from 3,168 miles to 7,192. He accused non-government organizations of setting the fires to "call attention" to his administration.
"The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations," said Bolsonaro. "There are images of the entire Amazon. How can that be? Everything indicates that people went there to film and then to set fires. That is my feeling."
Recently, he also accused the director of a government agency that monitors the Amazon of not being truthful about rising deforestation, then fired him.
He's currently arguing with Germany and Norway who have cut aid to the Amazon because of policies he's behind. Again, it sounds like shades of the current U.S. president.
Bolsonaro's position has been a distraction in the country's politics and has been criticized by prominent scientists in Brazil. The controversies are also threatening the countries spot as a global leader on the environment.
He ran for office last year promising he would open the Amazon to business. Since he took office this year, deforestation has surged. According to the National Institution for Space Research in Brazil, the Amazon lost 870 square miles of forest just in July.
Wildfires in a rainforest became possible because of destruction and human contact inside the forest.
The Amazon is necessary to ecology. It takes in carbon dioxide and stores it in soil which produces oxygen. It's one of the world's greatest defenses against climate change, according to scientists.
Since January there have been 74,155 fires in the Amazon, according to the space research. That's an 85 percent rise from last year and more than the 7,790 fires by this same time in 2016, a year with severe drought conditions associated with El Niño.
Farmers and others burn the rainforest intentionally to clear land and help retain open space.
Trying to bring Brazil out of years of a stagnant economy, Bolsonaro encouraged development in the region.
Brazil scientist Carlos Nobre believes that will cause more harm. "We make a joke that the forest is becoming like Swiss cheese, with ... roads and things crossing in the forest," he said. "And it becomes more vulnerable and degraded. ... And the more the forest becomes degraded, the more the forest will become vulnerable to forest fires."
Ecologist Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in Amazonia finds it disturbing that "forest fires have been in evidence in a year that is not one of extreme drought."
While forest fires are common in Brazil, it's not common for them to be burning at this rate, said environmental scientist Vitor Gomes at the Federal University of Para.
"I cannot remember any other big fire episode like this one," he said. "It is also sharply overlapped with the increased deforestation. Attributing the whole episode to natural causes only is practically impossible."
Scientists always warn that the conditions in the Amazon are approaching a tipping point where the damage done may become irreversible.
"Anyone can go to [the space research institute] and see the fire alerts all over," said the World Wide Fund for Nature's Amazon Program head Ricardo Mello.
"You can see that they're real — they're seen by infrared cameras. There's no way that you can deny this. ... It's very naive for him to say that's not happening."
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