The Great Amazon Fire Fraud

It isn’t entirely a fraud–there are indeed fires in the vicinity of the Amazon rain forest. But the hysteria that has been induced by those fires, which occur every year at this time, is ridiculous. Wildly exaggerated claims have been repeated uncritically in the press, and celebrity ignoramuses and politicians have avidly circulated photos of pretty much every forest fire that has occurred anywhere in the world over the last 20 or 30 years, claiming they were taken yesterday in the Amazon region.

The controversy has reached the level of high diplomacy (or rather, low comedy) as European countries have leaned heavily on Brazil to do a better job of controlling fires, threatening among other things trade sanctions, while Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro declined European offers of aid, while pointing out that French president Marcon wasn’t even able to prevent a foreseeable fire at Notre Dame cathedral. Relations between Brazil and France spiraled downward to the point of a Facebook comment by Bolsonaro on the relative pulchritude of the countries’ first ladies.

Hysteria and low comedy aside, what is actually going on in the Amazon region? This column by Dr. Ryan Maue of the Cato Institute, at the Tennessee Star, is a good summary: “Everything You’ve Heard About the Amazon Fires Is Wrong.”

The international news coverage of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest fires has been a complete disaster. News outlets published inaccurate yet easily verifiable “facts” about the number of fires, declaring the situation “record-breaking” and “unprecedented.” Social media lit up with misleading claims about the loss of planetary oxygen supply (20 percent, said French President Emmanuel Macron) threatening to asphyxiate us all. …

The dry season in Brazil typically runs from August to November, as farmers use these months to burn dried-out timber previously cut during land clearing operations. Ranchers also prepare the land for cattle grazing.

An important point to remember about these fires…is that the rainforests themselves are not entirely or uncontrollably ablaze. Natural fire does not typically occur in these tropical forests due to suffocating humidity, wet dense foliage, and daily thunderstorms. What is burning right now is land near the forests where farmers and ranchers have cleared hundreds and hundreds of acres of trees. This is easily seen in satellite imagery, which scientists finally examined and compared to the past two decades.
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The Brazilian state of Mato Grasso has been transformed into an “ocean of soybeans” the size of Iowa. On the periphery, the land is cleared at the rate of 2,500-square-miles annually.

This deforestation peaked in the 1990s but lessened significantly over the past 10 years.
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The number of fires and cumulative area burned so far in 2019, on the other hand, is on par with previous years and described as “near average” by NASA.

Hysterics (like President Macron) robotically describe the Amazon rain forest as the Earth’s “lungs.” And it is true that over the years, there has been some deforestation in Brazil and other countries in the Amazon region, as they continue to develop. But what liberals never mention is that overall, the Earth is getting greener. Forested areas, worldwide, are growing, not shrinking, in large part due to the increasing concentration of CO2–plant food–in the atmosphere. (CO2 is great for the environment.) You can see this easily in satellite photographs. Deserts are shrinking and vegetated areas are growing.

My colleague Isaac Orr wrote recently that “Overall, the study found that tree cover loss in the tropics was outweighed by tree cover gain in subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions,” as shown in this chart. Globally, there are more trees and vegetation today than there were 30 years ago:

Back to Dr. Maue:

The chain reaction of misinformation is easily visible in real-time especially with climate change related narratives. All it takes is one misleading headline, such as the Guardian’s “12-years left to avoid climate catastrophe,” to set off an uncontrollable cascade of virtue signaling and outrage. Celebrities and politicians amplify the message on social media. Non-governmental activist organizations swoop in to manage the narrative.

And to raise money from suckers.

Sometimes journalists are responsible for initiating misinformation, usually due to sloppy fact-checking. But often there is a more fundamental breakdown in the coverage of environmental news: the outrage and hysteria is self-reinforcing and all in the service of stated and approved goals of an agenda-driven activist media. Awards and plaudits are showered upon journalists or scientists themselves who consistently exaggerate the links between climate change and extreme weather. The next doomsday deadline is right around the corner.

Long story short, the fires burning in the Amazon area are overwhelmingly on non-forested land, are little or no different from what happens every year, and pose zero threat to the Earth–which is, in fact, getting greener, in considerable part due to a healthy growth in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

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