Eye on the Amazon

The Amazon's Burning Season Is a Call to Action

Photo credit: Bruno Kelly / Amazonia Real

As California's forests are incinerated in an escalating cycle of climate disaster, connecting it to this year's Amazon burning season comes easily. Yet, while Californians are witnessing a horrific wildfire season, fires in the Amazon are not caused by nature but by illegal arson. Although different in their origins, both of these tragedies contribute to the destruction of our climate.

2019's catastrophic Amazon fires didn't compel its perpetrators to reform. This year's burning is off to its worst start in a decade, indicating these actors are actually doubling down on their criminal acts. And they're doing so with the promise of gross impunity and significant financial reward.

The first two weeks of August saw more than 10,000 fires spotted across the Brazilian Amazon, a 17 percent increase from the same period in 2019. Greenpeace Brazil estimates that a new fire is being set every two minutes. The vast majority (88 percent) of the fires are burning on recently-felled forests, showing the intrinsic connection between hotspots and a mounting scourge of illegal deforestation. In July alone there were 3,485 square miles (9,205 sq km) of forest loss, an increase of 34.5 percent since July 2019 and equivalent to losing two football fields of forest every minute, according to Brazil's space agency INPE.

While much burning occurs within privately-held lands and older agricultural parcels, there was a 77 percent increase in fires targeting Indigenous lands – with nearly 900 fires burning in 30 different territories – and a 50 percent increase in Amazonian conservation areas between July 2019 and 2020. This tendency clearly indicates how illegal loggers, land grabbers, and ultimately the “rotten apples” of Brazilian agribusiness for export are recklessly expanding operations into once-protected primary forests.

Although deforested areas continue to burn – 84 percent of 2020's fires are taking place in recently deforested areas – 11 percent of the fires are occurring in forests. This development signals a grim turning point for the Amazon, as primary rainforests do not burn under normal climatic conditions.

In response to this worsening crisis, Amazon Watch is calling for an #AmazonCeaseFire by mounting a communications, advocacy, and direct relief campaign alongside a coalition of Brazilian and global allies. We are shining a spotlight on the true drivers of today's crisis – from political delinquency to market complicity – while also targeting those responsible through effective activism. One such actor is BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, which plays a pivotal role in financially enabling the industries behind the Amazon burning season.

Findings from Amazon Watch's forthcoming Complicity in Destruction III report demonstrate why shifting the policies and practices of financial giants like BlackRock offers a strategic opportunity to counter the reckless behavior of Brazil's cattle, soy, and mining sectors, as well as that of their global corporate accomplices. The emergency for the rainforest and its peoples – and the future of our climate – requires swift and decisive action.

The socio-environmental backdrop to the crisis is alarming. As Brazil's Indigenous peoples suffer a disproportionately deadly toll from COVID-19, which is ravaging their communities and killing key leaders and elders, they now face the compounded threat of respiratory ailments and increased vulnerability driven by smoke inhalation. The Bolsonaro regime's blatant disregard for Indigenous communities confronting this existential crisis appears to be by design: from a president who admires the US cavalry's “competent” slaughter of Native Americans, to his veto of legislation meant to save Indigenous lives. Bolsonaro's action and policies demonstrate a clear intent to commit genocide upon those resisting his racist agenda.

In a victory for the Indigenous movement, Brazil's Congress overturned Bolsonaro's lethal vetoes last week. Yet, the disastrous scenario still unfolding in the Amazon indicates that the pandemic's impacts will continue to flare alongside burning rainforests. This is why Amazon Watch is deploying a significant volume of direct aid to threatened Brazilian communities via our Amazon Defenders Fund. With our partners at the helm of these rapid response projects, our contributions will not only save lives but also help Indigenous peoples establish comprehensive healthcare solutions so desperately needed to counter COVID-19.

Ultimately, our #AmazonCeaseFire campaign contributes to the global and local efforts to end today's cycle of destruction and violence in the Brazilian Amazon. Together with our allies, we are striving for systemic change through calls for political and corporate accountability. To meet our ambitions we are sparking an irresistible movement. We need your help to accomplish this change. Next week, join the global Week of Action to End the Big Business of Burning rainforests, to pressure the world's corporations and financiers to stop bankrolling Amazon destruction – before there is nothing left to destroy.

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