SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory - Wind Advisory View Alerts

Blame humans for starting the Amazon fires, environmentalists say

The Amazon is burning -- and humans are likely to blame.Environmental organizations and researchers say the wildfires blazing in the Brazilian rainfor...

Posted: Aug 22, 2019 10:18 AM
Updated: Aug 22, 2019 11:00 AM

The Amazon is burning -- and humans are likely to blame.

Environmental organizations and researchers say the wildfires blazing in the Brazilian rainforest were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who want to clear and utilize the land, emboldened by the country's pro-business president.

'The vast majority of these fires are human-lit,' said Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch. He added that even during dry seasons, the Amazon -- a humid rainforest -- doesn't catch on fire easily, unlike the dry bushland in California or Australia.

Farmers and ranchers have long used fire to clear land, said Poirier, and are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today.

The country's space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil are 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.

And 99% percent of the fires result from human actions 'either on purpose or by accident,' Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, said. The burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for a mechanized and modern agribusiness project, Setzer told CNN by email.

The Amazon forest produces about 20% of the world's oxygen, and is often called 'the planet's lungs.' According to the World Wildlife Fund, if it is irrevocably damaged, it could start emitting carbon instead -- the major driver of climate change.

The environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, tweeted on Wednesday that the fires were caused by dry weather, wind, and heat. But CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said the fires are 'definitely human-induced,' and can't be attributed to natural causes like lightning strikes.

This year's fires fit into an established seasonal agricultural pattern, Brink said. '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.'

The peak of the dry season is still to come in September, she added.

Compared to previous years, the destruction this year is 'unprecedented,' Poirier said.

It's also very difficult to halt human-induced blazes, Lincoln Muniz Alves, a researcher at INPE's Earth System Science Centre, told CNN.

'Because the use of fire is a traditional part of tropical agriculture to clean agricultural land, grazing land, it is very difficult to stop it,' Alves said in an email.

Environmentalists are blaming Bolsonaro

Organizations, activists, and social media users worldwide have reacted to the news with alarm. #PrayForTheAmazon and other variations of the hashtag are trending globally on Twitter, with hundreds of thousands of tweets. As images and news of the fire spread, many are demanding accountability from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

When Bolsonaro was running for president, he made campaign promises to restore the economy by exploring the Amazon's economic potential. Now, environmental organizations say he has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

In a statement, Amazon Watch pointed to widespread local media reports that just last week, farmers had organized a coordinated 'fire day' to burn land for agriculture, inspired by Bolsonaro's rhetoric.

Fires are 'just the most visible symptom' of Bolsonaro's policies, and 'reflect the irresponsibility of the president,' said Observatorio do Clima (Climate Observatory) in a statement on Wednesday.

The pro-business Bolsonaro has hamstrung Brazil's environmental enforcement agency with budget cuts amounting to $23 million -- official data sent to CNN by Observatorio do Clima shows the enforcement agency's operations have gone down since Bolsonaro was sworn in.

And just weeks ago, the director of INPE was fired after a spat with the president. The director had defended satellite data that showed deforestation was 88% higher in June than a year earlier, which Bolsonaro characterized as 'lies.'

Bolsonaro, who has previously said he is not 'Captain Chainsaw' in reference to Amazon deforestation, has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires. On Wednesday, he speculated that the Amazon fires could have been caused by nonprofit organizations who are suffering from lack of funding, to 'generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government.'

Poirier warns that shrugging off the fires could embolden farmers to burn more and 'land grabbers' to illegally occupy, parcel out, and resell plots of land to ranchers. There have previously been attempts to rein in these rainforest 'mafia' -- but these attempted crackdowns are rare and often met with strong public opposition.

All the while, the Amazon veers toward potential disaster.

'The Amazon is incredibly important for our future, for our ability to stave off the worst of climate change,' said Poirier. 'This isn't hyperbole. We're looking at untold destruction — not just of the Amazon but for our entire planet.'

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 348766

Reported Deaths: 4161
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah54797689
Washington37988313
Marion36055444
Clackamas29094304
Lane26966298
Jackson22632300
Deschutes19577123
Umatilla14241144
Linn12380120
Douglas11795240
Josephine9233195
Yamhill8517110
Klamath7709110
Polk715380
Malheur551574
Benton529130
Coos489691
Columbia371343
Jefferson361450
Union313146
Lincoln310638
Wasco281540
Crook274745
Clatsop239529
Baker198028
Tillamook193328
Hood River188337
Morrow181623
Curry178122
Harney108424
Grant97612
Lake89011
Wallowa67012
Gilliam1484
Sherman1463
Wheeler991
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4810682

Reported Deaths: 70604
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147569426398
Riverside3693444990
San Diego3641044163
San Bernardino3563155566
Orange3227415518
Sacramento1576212279
Santa Clara1445181890
Kern1441461605
Fresno1441232051
Alameda1198871374
San Joaquin1018071708
Ventura1005241164
Contra Costa99234982
Stanislaus851571315
Tulare78945951
San Francisco54031645
San Mateo53828622
Monterey50696582
Solano45761334
Santa Barbara44836521
Merced41781577
Sonoma40711402
Placer38902415
Imperial35642764
Kings32369314
San Luis Obispo29653329
Madera23518281
Butte23364260
Shasta23360334
Santa Cruz20861218
Yolo20147247
Marin17581243
El Dorado16960149
Sutter13775169
Napa12808100
Yuba994282
Tehama9298104
Humboldt9102108
Nevada903990
Mendocino752786
Lassen746346
San Benito737372
Tuolumne673993
Lake6506104
Amador537264
Siskiyou442742
Glenn430330
Calaveras381780
Del Norte356141
Colusa301718
Inyo196739
Mono16445
Plumas15756
Mariposa127315
Trinity86011
Modoc6698
Unassigned1860
Sierra1760
Alpine1020
Out of CA00
Medford
Mostly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 63°
Brookings
Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 50°
Crater Lake
Mostly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 63°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 63°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 59°
Rain and snow continues overnight, partially drying out Monday
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events