The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, with Brazil having declared a state of emergency over the rising number of fires in the region. So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected, which marks an 83% increase from 2018 and the highest number on record since 2013.
Brazil saw a sharp spike in deforestation during July, which has been followed by extensive burning in August. Local newspapers have argued farmers in some regions are organizing “fire days” to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the Brazilian authorities.
While the Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid, July and August -- the onset of the dry season -- are the area's driest months, with "activity" peaking by early September and stopping by mid-November, according to NASA. The fires are largely linked to people clearing out the land for farming or ranching.
Satellite images show fires in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondonia, Para, and Mato Grosso. The state of Amazonas is the most affected. The effects of damage to the Amazon go far beyond Brazil and its neighbors. The area's rainforest generates more than 20% of the world's oxygen and harbors 10% of the world's known biodiversity.
The Amazon is usually referred to as "the lungs of the planet" and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, impacting everything from farming to the water we drink.
The smoke coming out from the forest fires can actually be seen from space. The European Union Earth Observation Program's Sentinel satellites captured images of "significant amounts of smoke" over Amazonas, Rondonia and other areas. Skies also darkened over San Paulo after winds carried smoke.
Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has also faced criticism. People are charging him with a lack of action and with encouraging logging and farming in the Amazon. Bolsonaro accused environmental groups of starting the fires, as a way to embarrass his administration.
“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,” the president told a steel industry congress in Brasilia.
Social media started the hashtags #PrayforAmazonas and #AmazonRainforest. Twitter users criticized media for giving more attention to the fire at Notre Dame and other news than to the rainforest fires. Social media users also called out billionaires for lack of donations.