The South American country is witnessing its most massive wave of forest fires in the past five years. Many blame Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, for encouraging devastation in the Amazon.
It began yesterday afternoon, around 3 PM local time, August 19th. Dark clouds over São Paulo city turned “day into night” and led many people to call the metropolis the new “Gotham City.” The cause? A meteorological phenomenon resulting from both the arrival of a cold front as well as smoke originating from forest fires.
Side fact: the fires occurred in the Amazon region, more than four thousand kilometers away.
According to Helena Balbino of Brazil’s National Institute for Meteorology, the city is “inside a cloud of pollution”. The situation quickly became a trending topic on Twitter with numerous tweets joking that São Paulo has become the forefront of “the Apocalypse”.
Fire is a tool commonly used by grileiros, people who deforest and ravage natural areas in order to appropriate them, and has become an epidemic in many crucial areas of Brazil.
Since January, Brazil has witnessed its largest wave of forest fires in the last five years, caused by both human action and its dry season. The fires have proliferated uncontrollably in various northern regions encompassed by the Brazilian Amazon and have spread to neighboring countries such as Bolivia and Paraguay.
On Monday, real-time satellite-generated images demonstrated high concentrations of atmospheric carbon monoxide over the states of Acre, Rondonia, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. As a result, air currents heavy with smoke have been heading towards the south of Brazil. Many inhabitants of the northern States have posted their pleas for help on social media, complaining of breathing difficulties and distress.
Recently, the director of INPE, the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research, was sacked for releasing an analysis of satellite-generated images indicating a dramatic rise in deforestation (an alarming 88% in comparison to the previous year) during the first few months of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newly elected President, is a far-right politician with autocratic tendencies. Many believe he has encouraged a “free-for-all” when it comes to deforestation. He has previously stated that forest reserves and protected lands for the indigenous impede development.
Even though experts deem INPE’s monitoring systems to be among the best in the world, Bolsonaro has insinuated that its data has been tampered with and influenced by NGOs.
Brazil’s President has made it clear to the international community his position on the issue: the Amazon belongs to Brazil and no one else. In the past few days, Norway has followed Germany and has halted millions in donations to the Brazilian government’s Amazon Fund. A consequence of the increasing deforestation that has taken place after Bolsonaro took office as well as the scathing remarks made by the President, indicating that European countries should “take care of themselves”.
The Amazon is one of the most abundant natural conglomerations of forests on planet Earth and is considered crucial in the fight against global warming. This is due to the fact that it’s one of the world’s most important carbon banks, collecting fossil fuel emissions from the atmosphere. Evaporation of water in the region is also the primary source of precipitation over Brazil and other South American countries.
It is also home to approximately 20% of the planet’s plant and animal species.