Niamh Houston | Opinion and Debate Editor
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is currently experiencing record numbers of fires, with many pointing to the environmental policies of the newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, as the cause. While on the campaign trail in 2018, Bolsonaro made controversial promises surrounding environmental policy including Brazil’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the opening of indigenous, environmentally protected territories to mining and agricultural interests, leaving the Amazon rainforest vulnerable to deforestation.
The fires in the Amazon have been burning for over two weeks, at time of writing, which Alberto Setzer – a researcher for The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) – attributes to ‘the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident’. Although the summer months can encourage wildfires to occur in Brazil, it has been suggested that they have been started in an effort to illegally clear land for cattle ranching. According to official data published by INPE, deforestation has seen a 278% increase in the last year. Bolsonaro has claimed that these figures ‘don’t correspond to the truth’; however, he has failed to back this statement.
The loss created by these fires imperils the biodiverse ecosystem within the Amazon, including its indigenous population. On a global scale the world is losing its largest carbon offsets, which according to Becky Oskin of LiveScience, annually ‘absorbs about 2.2 billion tons (2 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide’. With carbon dioxide emissions being the main contributor to global warming, meteorologist Eric Holthaus has commented that these fires have placed the population ‘in a climate emergency’.