The Amazon Is On Fire. Bummer If You're A Fan Of Oxygen.
We would hate to sound like alarmists, but it's probably a very bad thing that massive wildfires are destroying huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon has seen enormous rates of deforestation since rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro took office January 1, and Bolsonaro's response so far has been 1) to accuse the government agency that measures the deforestation of lying and being the tool of evil international NGOs trying to make him look bad; 2) to fire the head of that agency when he pushed back, and 3) to blame the fires on his political enemies. As of yet, Bolsonaro hasn't yet argued that someone needs to be raking the forests more carefully, but we imagine he'll get there. Perhaps he could blame fish, or maybe abortion, too.
Bolsonaro ran last year on a platform of opening up the Amazon to development, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that since he took office, deforestation has increased rapidly. That's been made even worse by the fires.
In July alone, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research [INPE], the Amazon lost 870 square miles of forest — more than half the size of Rhode Island.
Destruction and human contact inside the forest is making what was once thought to be all but impossible — wildfires in a rainforest — possible. The area in Brazil's Amazon regions razed by fire has more than doubled in two years, from 3,168 square miles during the first seven months of 2017 to 7,192 square miles during the same period this year, the space institute reported.
The Amazon forest has seen over 74,000 fires since January alone. That's bad.
Like a very good leader, Bolsonaro knew exactly how to respond to the space institute's deforestation report. He accused the scientists of lying, insisting they wrote the report "at the service of some NGO."
"I am convinced the data is a lie," he said. "We are going to call the president of INPE here to talk about this, and that's the end of that issue."
INPE's director, Ricardo Galvão, wasn't about to have his staff's work insulted and dismissed like that, so he publicly condemned Bolsonaro's "vile, cowardly attitude," and that got him fired. He later told the Washington Post he had to speak up:
This was a defense of the dignity of the Brazilian science, not only for Brazilian scientists, but for all scientists [...] Our data should never be curbed by political interests.
Bolsonaro's cavalier attitude toward the rainforest, which scientists estimate is responsible for producing
over 20 percent a significant portion* of the planet's oxygen, has alarmed other world leaders, which only angers Bolsonaro, who explained to foreign journalists last month that he's free to raze any forests he wants to:
We understand the importance of the Amazon for the world -- but the Amazon is ours. There will not be any more of that sort of policy that we saw in the past that was terrible for everyone [...] We preserve more [rainforest] than anyone. No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon. You destroyed your own ecosystems.
Jesus, what a stupid man. It's like he's saying that if other countries love rainforest so much, maybe they should have just had some of them in the first place.
*Update: We earlier mentioned a much-cited but erroneous estimate that the Amazon is responsible for 20 percent of Earth's oxygen. The real science is more complicated.
Therefore, he gets free rein to destroy Brazil's, which is what he was elected to do, and the rest of us can enjoy the higher temperatures as even less of the world's CO2 is captured.
NASA Earth Observatory
As for the current fires, which are visible from space, Bolsonaro knows who's responsible for those, too: His enemies and environmentalist NGOs that want to make him look bad by destroying the forest they say they want to save, because they're sneaky that way.
"The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations," he said. "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."
Brazil may be converting huge parts of the rainforest into CO2, but we should never worry that Bolsonaro will ever run out of the highest quality batshit. Bolsonaro's decision to jump on the science denial train comes at a particularly bad time for the world's largest -- for now -- rainforest. WaPo explains:
Widespread destruction is quickly pushing the Amazon toward what researchers describe as a tipping point — between 20 and 25 percent deforestation — when they say its climate will change and large swaths will transform into grassy, largely treeless savanna.
Oh. That sounds like it would be bad all right. Still, just think of all the money some companies will be making once they can grow crops or farm cattle on that land!
In addition to the news about fires add deforestation, an open-government nonprofit yesterday revealed the existence of a Bolsonaro plan to sabotage environmental preservation in the Amazon rainforest by rushing ahead with several big construction projects that would disrupt the conservation efforts.
As of yet, Donald Trump appears not to have commented on the environmental devastation, which is just as well. He would probably suggest Bolsonaro buy Greenland and then put the fires out with all the water from the island's melting glaciers.
[WaPo / Guardian / Wapo / Open Democracy / Update: National Geographic]
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