Spanning eight countries and more than 5 million kilometers squared, the Earth’s largest rainforest is still ablaze. Earlier in August, day turned to night as smoke from the fires darkened the Sao Paulo sky.
The record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest are mobilizing environmental groups and spurring debate about the forest’s Indigenous population. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the number of active wildfires in the Amazon rainforest increased by more than 80 per cent since last year.
Sustainable Concordia is concerned about the wildfires and deforestation. Their mission statement advocates sustainability through “acting locally and networking globally.” In a statement to The Concordian, Sustainable Concordia emphasized the economic link between deforestation and the fires.
“The fires (at least in part) are being set on purpose, driven by an exploitative capitalist system that values products and profit over people,” wrote Emily Carson-Apstein, Sustainable Concordia’s External and Campaign Coordinator.
Environmental group Greenpeace Brazil also blame deforestation. Márcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s Policy Coordinator, denounced in the Mongabay the practice while linking it to the thousands of fire hotspots.
“Deforestation only damages Brazil’s economy, the planet’s climate and endangers wildlife and the lives of thousands of people,” wrote Astrini.
In an interview with The Concordian, Christian Poirier, Program Director of Amazon Watch, said the cattle and mining industries are the most significant contributors to deforestation. Amazon Watch is a California-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rainforest and Indigenous rights. According to Yale University’s Global Forest Atlas, 450,000 kilometres squared of deforested land now are used for cattle ranching. He said removing trees for cattle ranching is often achieved by intentionally setting fires but this year’s increase is unusual.
“Fires are an annual phenomenon to clear parcels of land, but this year it’s an on an unprecedented scale,” said Poirier.
Like Sustainable Concordia, Poirier is concerned about economic incentives that encourage deforestation. In a statement, Poirier said that President Jair Bolsonaro encouraged farmers to light fires, with anti-environmental rhetoric.
“Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a license to commit arson … in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest,” wrote Poirier.
The fires attracted international attention at last weekend’s G7 summit. Leaders from around the world offered technical and financial support. According to AFP, the G7 pledged $20 million. Bolsanaro initially refused the aid. He has since agreed to accept foreign assistance as long as Brazil controls the funds.
Following the G7 summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed $15 million to fight the wildfires and praised international collaboration. However, Poirier said Canadian-owned mines are part of the problem, referring to Toronto-based and traded Belo Sun Mining Corporation.
Belo Sun operates the Volta Grande Project, a proposed open-pit mine in the Amazon located on a 160,000-hectare property. According to Environmental Justice Atlas – an organization that tracks global environmental conflicts – the project seeks to open Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine. Mining operations often require massive amounts of deforestation and mineral extraction – two detrimental procedures to the forest’s sustainability.
Last July, Reuters reported on Belo Sun’s numerous legal challenges in Brazillian courts over construction permits. State and Federal Court cases have left the project on hold. On Jul. 12, Belo Sun released a statement lauding a Federal Court of Appeals ruling in Brazil’s capital, Brasília. However, the judgment was described as a “procedural win.”
With legal disputes ongoing, uncertainty surrounds the Volta Grande Project and the Amazon’s future. Despite international outcry, wildfires continue to burn in the world’s largest rainforest. For now, what effect these fires will have on the Amazon and the world-at-large remains unknown.