Eye on the Amazon

Amazon Fires Mapping: Exposing the Destruction with Data

In a recent interview, Ricardo Salles, Brazil's Minister of Destruction (known officially as the country's Environment Minister), claimed that, "Brazil is an example in environmental protection." Salles made this absurd claim as the Amazon rainforest continued to smolder and more than 20 percent of the Brazilian Pantanal – the world's largest wetland and a major biodiversity hotspot – was reduced to ashes.

By both eschewing any responsibility for this year's catastrophic burning season and seeking to frame the Bolsonaro regime as an environmental leader, the minister continued to shamelessly spout lies to a largely incredulous public. This is true to form: Bolsonaro's power rests on wholesale fraud, and Mr. Salles is among his most brazen spin doctors.

The post-truth era has brought us atrocities like Bolsonaro and Trump and this has facilitated rampant environmental plunder that pushes our ecosystems and climate to the brink. An effective means of combating deception is by offering objective truth, grounded in data and analysis, that unequivocally demonstrates the realities unfolding on the ground.

Amazon Watch's new fires mapping platform does just that, laying bare the environmental crimes unfolding in the Brazilian Amazon, which were first actively facilitated and then explained away by the Bolsonaro regime. By combining infrared and other satellite data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and multifaceted major fire data and high-resolution imagery from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) and laying them over a detailed map of the rainforest and its Indigenous territories and protected areas, this tool allows us to visualize and analyze the true, and disastrous, scope of this year's burning season.

Fires in Amazonian Indigenous territories set records in July with an increase of 77 percent over July 2019, from 305 to 539. This destruction was preceded by a 59 percent jump in deforestation alerts on the region's Indigenous lands since 2019, confirming the correlation between increased illegal logging and devastating fires. This tendency bears true across the region, where loggers and land grabbers work in tandem to clear irreplaceable forests for the benefit of a handful of powerful agribusiness interests.

Bolsonaro and his henchmen would have us believe that "the Amazon doesn't catch fire," "the Amazon isn't burning," or even that "Africa is burning much more than Brazil" in a desperate and pitiful effort to persuade public opinion, particularly that of foreign investors, that the true fallout of the regime's chaotic and catastrophic environmental mismanagement is overblown. Yet these flimsy arguments cannot withstand the accurate documentation of how this year's heartbreaking burning season has laid waste to Brazilian ecosystems while incinerating the country's once-touted environmental credentials along with the credibility of its so-called leaders.

Amazon Watch's Amazon Burning Season Tracker is one such effort, working to combat fake news by shining a spotlight on one of the greatest environmental and human rights catastrophes of our time. Willful ignorance brought us here; a firm grasp on reality will help ensure that history ceases to repeat itself, that the charlatans are driven from power, and that we not only take control of the narrative, but also of our collective future.

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