The worst forest fires in Brazil in a decade, but election calm

RIO DE JANEIRO – September is over, marking another painful milestone for the world’s largest rainforest. It’s the worst month for fires in the Amazon in over a decade.

Satellite sensors have detected over 42,000 fires in 30 days, according to the Brazilian National Space Institute. It’s the first time since 2010 that fires in the Amazon have exceeded 40,000 in a single month.

This September was two and a half times worse than the last. At the height of the dry season, it’s usually the worst month not only for fires but also for deforestation.

Official data on forest loss only extends to September 23, but is already 14% more devastating than September 2021. In just those three weeks, the Amazon has lost 1,120 square kilometers of rainforest (434 sq mi), an area larger than New York-City.

The surge in wildfires comes amid a polarizing presidential campaign. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a second four-year term against leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and leads the polls. The first ballot will take place on Sunday.

Despite the smoke clogging the air in entire Amazonian cities, the state elections have largely i environmental issues ignored. In addition to the president, Brazilians will also elect governors and state and national parliaments.

In Para state, which is worst for both deforestation and fires, the issue of deforestation was barely touched upon during a televised debate between gubernatorial candidates held by the Globo network on Tuesday.

Over an hour and a half, only one candidate mentioned the steep increase in deforestation. Globo, Brazil’s leading TV channel, didn’t even pick it as one of eight debate topics.

Protecting the forest is not a high priority for populations after years of the pandemic and a deteriorating economy, Paulo Barreto, a researcher with the nonprofit Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, told the Associated Press. “But the fact that journalists don’t ask about it is an even bigger problem.” Deforestation could lead to more poverty, he said. “On the other hand, there are growing economic opportunities related to conservation.”

Fires in the Amazon are almost always started intentionally to improve cattle grazing or to burn newly felled trees once they are dry. The fires often get out of control and reach untouched forest areas.

Studies have shown that deforestation rates peak in election years, and 2022 was particularly intense due to Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, analysts say.

“With the chance to change government to one that promises more austerity, deforesters seem to be jumping on the possibility that the party is over,” Barreto said.

Since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, deforestation has increased as his government has discouraged environmental regulators and backed measures to relax land protections to encourage polluters.

The far-right leader has repeatedly denied that the fire is even increasing, despite official data from his government agency. On Thursday evening during the last presidential debate Before the vote, he said wildfires are a regular occurrence in the Amazon, dismissing the criticism as a “war of narratives” and saying Brazil is “an example for the world” in conservation.

It was a response to Simone Tebet, a senator close to agribusiness leaders and considered a moderate in the race. In one of the few moments without personal insults, she criticized Bolsonaro’s environmental record in a segment related to climate change.

“Your government has set fire to biomes, forests and my Pantanal wetlands. Their government favored miners and loggers and protected them,” she said. “You were the worst president in the history of Brazil in that respect.”

During his campaign, da Silva pledged to restore law enforcement and garnered support from indigenous and environmental leaders, such as the former Environment Minister Marina Silva. She had publicly broken with the former president over his push to build hydroelectric power plants and other development initiatives in the Amazon.

When she announced her support at a meeting with da Silva a few weeks ago, she called Bolsonaro a threat to Brazil’s democracy. She said the country is facing a critical moment on issues ranging from the environment to the economy.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental reporting is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/10/01/worst-brazil-forest-fires-in-a-decade-yet-election-silence/ The worst forest fires in Brazil in a decade, but election calm

Sarah Y. Kim

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