Earlier this year (“Whose Amazon” September 2, 2019), I wrote about the fires in the Amazon at the time when the French and Brazilian heads of state were exchanging personal insults. G7 leaders attacked the Brazilian president for torching the “lungs of the planet,” and Brazil’s President Bolsonaro told the Europeans to mind their own business, indicating Brazilian natural resources were Brazil’s to exploit, despite protestations from overseas “colonialists.” In a speech to the United Nations, he rejected notions that the “Amazon is a world heritage” (Washington Post, September 24, 2019).
He has repeatedly asserted that indigenous reserves should “no longer be demarcated” and contain valuable mineral, timber and agricultural resources which need to be developed. (https://www.socioambiental.org/en/noticias-socioambientais/what-changes-or-is-left-for-indigenous-people-with-president-bolsonaros-reforms-in-brazil). These reserves represent both human and ecological havens; they are home to the remaining 850,000 indigenous peoples of Brazil and contain largely undisturbed and intact forest ecosystems. They also contain nearly 13% of Brazil’s total land area, occupied by handfuls of indigenous peoples (<1% of Brazil’s population), with weak governance and policing—almost overwhelmingly attractive targets for development.
When I wrote the earlier blog, fire activity in Brazil as a whole and the Amazon was not remarkably elevated over previous years, relative to the historical record dating to 2001. This assessment is still true through the year to date, but with some important revisions.
- Fire activity within the Amazonas region appears to be nearly as high as 2015, making 2019 the third highest fire season from 2001 onwards. The combined MODIS and VIIRS data (starting in 2012) posted on the globalfiredata.org website through October 7, 2019, show that fire detections are not as high as those detected in 2012, nor as high as 2017 (see the Modis alert figure above).
- The average fire radiative power, a measure of fire intensity, shows that the fires of 2019, at least through September, were more intense than any year since 2012. (https://globalfiredata.org/pages/2019/10/07/updated-fire-counts-over-the-legal-amazon/)
- Based on the historical record, the elevated fire counts to date in 2019 are “consistent with observations from years with more deforestation fires.” (https://globalfiredata.org/pages/2019/10/07/updated-fire-counts-over-the-legal-amazon/)
- Data released by INPE on November 18, the Brazilian space agency, reveal that deforestation spiked 30% over 2018, and reached its highest level since 2008, when nearly 13,000 km2 were lost. (http://www.obt.inpe.br/OBT/assuntos/programas/amazonia/prodes)
Absent aggressive pressure from countries that import Brazilian beef and soy (two of the commodities linked to deforestation and land conversion), coupled with widespread opposition to continued development within Brazil, land transformation across many regions of Brazil, particularly the remaining, largely intact areas located in demarcated indigenous reserves, will continue and accelerate. It is very likely the fundamental character of much of Brazil’s vast undeveloped regions will be decided during the course of the next decade.
Satellite Image: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145464/fires-in-brazil