Pressure, prayers and protests: Amazon fires push Brazil to the forefront of international conversations – USA TODAY
The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate. The fires are no accident, and we need to face it. How does this affect our planet?
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Amid an international outcry and protests at home over the proliferation of fires in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian government has sent 44,000 troops to combat the environmentally damaging blazes.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose pro-development policies have been blamed for the increased illegal clearing and burning of the forest, authorized the troop deployment as global anxiety escalated.
Pope Francis expressed his concern Sunday while addressing the crowd at St. Peterâs Square, warning that the green âlung of forest is vital for our planetââ and adding, âlet us pray so that, with the efforts of all, (the fires) are controlled as quickly as possible.ââ
At the meeting of the Group of Seven leaders in Biarritz, France, French President Emmanuel Macron said they are closing in on an agreement to help Brazil put out the fires and repair the damage. Earlier in the summit, he had declared the widespread blazes a global emergency and threatened punitive measures.
The Amazon stretches for more than 2 million square miles â about 2/3 the area of the continental U.S. â across several South American countries, with about 60% of it located in Brazil. The vast rainforest is believed to produce 20% of the worldâs oxygen and represents a major factor in the fight against climate change.
But deforestation has long been an issue, with farmers and ranchers clearing trees to use the land for cattle pasture or agriculture, especially growing soybeans. Brazilâs National Institute of Space Research, known as INPE, reported that last yearâs rate of deforestation was the highest in a decade.
Setting fires is a quick and commonly used way to clear the trees, even though itâs illegal. According to INPEâs figures, there have been more than 74,000 fires in Brazil this year, an increase of 85% compared to the same period in 2018, and around 40,000 of them have taken place in the Amazon. August alone accounts for 25,000.
Aerial images captured by Greenpeace show how fires continued to sweep across the Brazilian Amazon region over the weekend. (August 25)
Critics like Nigel Sizer, chief program officer of Rainforest Alliance, have pointed the finger directly at Bolsonaro, saying the government not only fails to enforce the law but encourages the burns.
The far-right president responded by suggesting, without evidence, that nongovernmental organizations were responsible for the blazes, supposedly igniting them to embarrass his government.
He also said in a news conference the fires were merely part of the farmersâ traditional habit of clearing brush at this time of year, a practice known as queimada.
âI used to be called Captain Chainsaw,ââ said Bolsonaro, who took office in January with a mandate to boost the economy as Brazil teetered on the brink of a recession. âNow I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada.ââ
Explanation: Why is the Amazon rainforest on fire?
Unconvinced, thousands of Brazilians have taken to the streets in protests throughout the country, demanding an end to the environmental disaster.
Brazilâs federal police agency announced Sunday it would investigate reports that farmers in the state of Para, one of those most affected by the blazes, had called for âa day of fireâ on Aug. 10. Local news media said the group organized to show support for Bolsonaroâs efforts to loosen environmental regulations.
Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Bolsonaro âasked for a rigorous investigationâ and said, âthe criminal fires will be severely punished.â
Contributing: The Associated Press