The Amazon Rainforest Has Been Burning For Three Weeks, Experts Say Humans Are To Blame
The fires threaten to worsen the effects of climate change due to the rainforest's role in controlling it.
The Amazonian rainforest has been burning at a record pace, and regional experts place the blame on humans. It's the third week of the fires, and according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known by the acronym INPE, the Brazilian Amazon has experienced 83% more fires than it did last year — 74,155 since January.
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According to the non-profit organization Amazon Watch, farmers and ranchers have long used fire to clear land and are likely behind the unusual amount of fires burning in the Amazon today. The more humid, damp climate of the rainforest doesn't catch fire as easily as the dry bushland in California or Australia, which regularly sees fires of natural causes.
Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed for deforestation in the Amazon despite concerns of its possible impact on climate change.
“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said to Reuters. Speaking of the fires, he said, “The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
Fires in the region raise concerns on multiple fronts. The Amazon is responsible for nearly a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon that global forests absorb each year. The current fires will further degrade its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
A study released last month showed that while deforestation is still the biggest current threat, climate change is rising. It also showed that the two problems are linked in a spiral, and as one gets worse, the other usually follows.
Vitor Gomes, an environmental scientist at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil and one of the authors of the study, fears that current fires will drive the climate change crisis past the worst fears of researchers.
“According to the results of our studies, even in the 'best-case' scenario (optimistic), half of Amazonian tree species will be threatened in the future. The trends we’ve seen today could be beyond our 'worst-case' scenario,” Gomes said to the Washington Post.
The worst-case scenario the study put forward was the Amazon losing its ability to absorb carbon by 2050.