Why is the Amazon Burning?

by Willow Rines

In June of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais in Portugese, or INPE) reported that Brazil’s forests were burning at a higher rate than normal, with over half of these fires occurring in the Amazon. Throughout Brazil, the rate of forest fires increased by over 80% from 2018 to 2019, with over 80,000 fires having occurred as of the INPE’s last count in late August.

In order to understand why so many forest fires are happening in Brazil this year, it’s important to first understand what causes the vast majority of fires in the Amazon every year. For a long time, people looking to make a buck have been cutting down select areas of the Amazon and burning the area to make room for growing animals for meat. This has al- ways been illegal in Brazil, but has never been strongly enforced, and according to National Geographic, these fires have resulted in the loss of 17% of the Amazon from 1968 to 2018. In 2019, however, fires have been an entirely different beast. National Geographic has estimated that somewhere between 25% and 40% of the Amazon is gone as of August 27, with potentially the same amount of damage being done to the Amazon in 2019 as had been done to it in the 50 years before.

The reason that there are so many fires in this year compared to previous years is the election of Brazil’s new president, a conservative nationalist named Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is opposed to pretty much any progressive values, including homosexuality, affirmative action, and in particular, environmentalism. Since being inaugurated, he has eliminated departments of the government related to deforestation and climate change; fired the director of the INPE, Ricardo Galvão; and has generally stopped the country from enforcing environmental protections as much as they did before. Since being elected, Bolsonaro has been constantly making changes that have resulted in the deregulation of the Amazon rainforest- from strategically shifting the power that his departments control, to focusing environ- mentalist departments of the government on profit by switching out staff members. Of course, it’s not only Bolsonaro’s fault; it’s also the people razing and burning the rainforest themselves for the purposes of agriculture. Bolsanaro has just opened the gates for them to do it easier.


The environmental impacts of the Amazon burning are twofold; firstly, the rainforest provides 20% of the world’s oxygen, and razing it and replacing it with agriculture causes us lose a lot of that oxygen. Secondly, 10% of all CO2 emissions are caused by
forest fires, so having a huge increase in forest fires in a year will cause more CO2 emissions for the year, which causes our planet to become hotter, which has all sorts of its own consequences.

If you want to help re- store the Amazon rainforest, you can donate at amazonwatch.com.

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