People around the world are using the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia as fires continue to ravage Brazil's rainforest.
EuroNews reports that these blazes—which have been burning the states of Rondônia, Amazonas, Pará, and Mato Grosso for weeks—became so severe that the state of Amazonas was forced to declare a state of emergency earlier this month. Smoke produced by the fires was reportedly so thick that it blocked out the sun in areas across the country, including São Paulo. The fires were also captured by NASA's Aqua satellite about a week ago—images that underscore their massive scale.
Many have expressed concern over the harmful effects the fires will have on residents, animal life, and the natural landscape. As pointed out by Reuters, these blazes have prompted wide-spread criticism of Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the severity of the situation.
"I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame," Bolsonaro told reporters about the backlash. "But it is the season of the queimada."
"Season of the queimada" refers to the time of year when farmers intentionally set fire to the forest for agricultural purposes; however, many have noted that the fires are isolated and that there has been an unprecedented surge in wildfires since Bolsonaro took office in early 2019. During his campaign, Bolsonaro had promised to roll back protections on Brazil's rainforest and indigenous rights, stating the country's natural resources should be exploited in a "reasonable way."
Data shows that deforestation in the Amazon has surged since Bolsonaro assumed office. According to a report by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), about 870 square miles of the Amazon rainforest was destroyed by man-made fires last month, marking a 278-percent increase from July 2018. Bolsonaro called the data "a lie" and subsequently fired INPE's director Ricardo Galvão.
"I am convinced the data is a lie. We are going to call the president of INPE here to talk about this and that’s the end of that issue," he said last month, as reported by the Guardian. "For the first time in the history of Brazil a president of the republic is looking to fulfill with everything he does what he promised during the campaign,” Bolsonaro said. “God willing, everything will work, policies like mine will continue in Brazil forever."
Experts say the combined effects of climate change and deforestation could significantly harm the planet, as the Amazon rainforest plays a huge role in stabilizing the world's carbon emissions.