Special reports: THE IDEA FACTORY
Nature's Nightmares Environmentalists, researchers say humans are behind the devastating Amazon fires
August 22, 2019
Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers want to take over the land.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said that so far this year, there have been 72,843 fires in the country, an 80 percent increase compared to this same time period in 2018; more than half of those blazes have been in the Amazon. The Amazon is a humid rainforest, and it is difficult, even during dry spells, for it to catch on fire, Christian Poirier of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch told CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign that he would open the Amazon up to business, and he has since slashed the environmental enforcement agency's budget. Environmentalists say his policies encourage ranchers and loggers to burn down land, with no fear about getting in trouble. The government has said lightning strikes are one reason for the fires, and Bolsonaro has also claimed baselessly that the fires were started by environmentalists to make him look bad.

The Amazon forest produces roughly 20 percent of the world's oxygen, and the World Wildlife Fund said if it is damaged beyond repair, the Amazon could start emitting carbon, which would make climate change even worse. Catherine Garcia