Amazon inferno
August 27, 2019

The Brazilian government said late Monday that it is rejecting its share of the $20 million that the Group of Seven leaders pledged earlier in the day to tackle the wildfires raging through the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian officials didn't explain the decision but cited French President Emmanuel Macron, who had announced the funds and offered French military assistance to fight the fires.

"We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe," Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told Brazilian media, in remarks confirmed by Bolsonaro's office. "Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?" Earlier Monday, before Bolsonaro met with his Cabinet, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles had welcomed the G-7 pledge of support.

Macron and Bolsonaro have been at loggerheads over the Amazon, with the Brazilian president accusing Macron of a "colonialist mentality" after the French leader said a European Union trade deal with South America was off unless Bolsonaro took protecting the Amazon seriously. Bolsonaro also endorsed a vicious personal attack on Macron's wife.

Macron said Monday that this isn't about him and Bolsonaro. "We respect your sovereignty. It's your country," he said. But "the Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything."

About 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil — the rest stretches into eight other nations — and satellite data from Brazil's space agency shows wildfires are up 85 percent this year, with about 80,000 breaking out in Brazil's section alone this year. Brazil's firefighters are overwhelmed and under-equipped. It's not clear if Brazil is also turning down $12 million pledged separately by Britain, $11 million from Canada, and $5 million from actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Peter Weber

August 23, 2019

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro admitted Thursday that farmers could be illegally setting fires consuming the Amazon but warned world leaders to stop "interfering with our sovereignty." French President Emmanuel Macron, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, and the Bishops Conference for Latin America were among those who expressed concerns about the record fires sweeping the rain forest, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen. "We urge the governments of the Amazon countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the world's lungs," the Catholic bishops said.

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers move to take over the land, and they say Bolsonaro's policies are actively encouraging this deforestation. Amazon deforestation is expected to be a topic at this weekend's G7 summit in France. Peter Weber

August 21, 2019

Large swaths of the Amazon rainforest have been ablaze for more three weeks, with the smoke visible from space and blotting out the sun for an hour on Monday in São Paulo, Brazil.

On Wednesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lobbed the blame at environmental organizations, saying the fires "may have been initiated" by the groups, in an effort "to bring problems to Brazil," reports The Guardian. He made this statement while speaking to a steel industry congress in the capital of Brasilia. When pressed, Bolsonaro admitted that he had no evidence of his claim and was going off personal feeling.

Fires in the Amazon aren't unheard of, with July and August brings the onset of the dry season, but so far more than 73,000 fires have been reported this year, a record number. It's also an 84 percent increase from 2018 during this time period, according to satellite data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Illegal deforestation and diminishing regulations are a major problem in the Amazon, writes The Guardian, not aided by Bolsonaro's infamously pro-industry and anti-conservationist approach. Bolsonaro fired the head of the INPE only weeks ago, after disputing data on deforestation from the agency.

At this time, the primary source of the current fire remains unclear. Cyrena Touros

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