Record fires ripping through the world’s largest rainforest have been photographed from space, prompting warnings the blaze could dramatically set back efforts to curb climate change.
Often referred to as the planet’s lungs, the Amazon rainforest produces 20 per cent of the Earth’s oxygen. It is considered crucial in the fight to slow global warming, and it is home to millions of species of fauna and flora.
But a surge of fires in several Amazonian states are putting this vital ecosystem at grave risk, with shocking new satellite data showing an 84 per cent increase of fires compared to the same period in 2018.
More than 72,000 fires have raged in Brazil this year, with more than half of those occurring in the Amazon region, says Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).
NASA’s aqua satellite also shows several fires burning in the states of Rondonia, Amazonas, Pará, and Mato Grosso.
Shocking photos and videos shared on social media show giant plumes of smoke rising from the greenery and a pitch-black sky all the way to Sao Paulo on the east coast of Brazil.
It comes just weeks after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of the Brazilian space agency amid disputes over its official deforestation satellite data.
— Chen Charts (@ChenCharts) August 21, 2019
The Amazon rainforest has been subjected to a sharp spike in deforestation since Mr Bolsonaro assumed power last year, with the new government making it clear it was eager to open up the region to economic activity.
Some local newspapers say the government’s weaker enforcement around deforestation has emboldened farmers to clear more and more land for crop fields and cattle ranches.
— John Gibbons (@think_or_swim) August 21, 2019
In an attempt to deflect worldwide condemnation for failing to protect the rainforest, Mr Bolsonaro has hit out at environmental groups who he says started the fires on purpose to embarrass his government.
“On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil,” Mr Bolsonaro told a steel industry congress in Brazil.
“We took money away from the NGOs… they are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding.
“So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing.”
The president was unable to name the NGOs involved, nor could he provide any evidence of foul play.
— WWF UK (@wwf_uk) August 21, 2019