Every year, farmers in the Amazon set fires to clear agricultural land during the dry season starting in August, but this year may be a record-setter, not for the number of fires, but for the global outrage.
The G-7 nations pledged Monday about $40 million to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest in response to the outcry from celebrities, media outlets and leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, who said the blazes represented an “international crisis.”
Climate scientist Roy Spencer had another term for the fires: “normal agriculture.”
“I think the media focus on this is misplaced and exaggerated, as is virtually every weather-related story that appears these days,” said Mr. Spencer, a former NASA scientist who does consulting on global crop-market forecasting.
“The driest years in Brazil will have the most fires set by farmers,” the professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville said in an email. “That isn’t a climate story, it’s normal agriculture in a country where 50 million people living in poverty are trying to survive.”
This year’s fires have been decried by media outlets and environmentalists as “record-setting,” and while that may be true of the number of fires in one of the 10 Amazon districts — Amazonas — the big picture is far less incendiary.
After finding last week that the Amazon fire activity “has been close to average in comparison to the last 15 years,” the NASA Observatory said Saturday that there has been an “uptick,” making 2019 “the most active fire year in that region since 2010.”
Data from the Global Fire Emissions Database of Amazon Region fire activity dating back to 2003 showed 2019 falling somewhere in the middle of the pack, with the number of fires as of Saturday at nearly 110,000.
That’s well above last year’s 58,500, the basis of widespread reports of an 84% increase in fire activity, but it’s also below the 116,000 fires recorded to date in 2016.
Dan Nepstad, president of the Earth Innovation Institute, told Forbes that the number of 2019 fires is 7% above the average of the last 10 years, even as deforestation fell by 70% from 2004-12 in the Brazilian Amazon. About 80% of the Amazon rainforest is intact, and half is protected under Brazilian federal law.
The photos you saw weren't of today's fires in Brazil
Amazon isn't the "lungs of the world"
Deforestation is 75% below 2004 peak
*Forest* fires not increasing
Fires 7% more than decadal ave.
Here's why everything they say about the Amazon is wronghttps://t.co/dQIIwv5DRq
— Michael Shellenberger (@shellenberger) August 26, 2019