Wildfires rage in 2019

NASA Amazon image
Satellite image of the Amazon wildfires, which show smoke and fires in several states within Brazil, including Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia. Image Courtesy: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Raging wildfires are occurring in both the Amazon rainforest and the Canary Islands this week, with parts of the Brazilian rainforest being consumed by fires so large that they can be seen from space and 12,000 hectares of the western slopes of Gran Canaria left charred after being engulfed by flames and gusting winds

An update on this story is available here.

In Gran Canaria, high summer temperatures and strong winds made it more difficult for emergency response units in Spain to quell the blaze that started on Saturday 17 August. After three days of raging fires that consumed more than 12,000 hectares of the island, and the evacuation of about 10,000 people, winds finally died down overnight on Monday 19; by early Tuesday 20, 16 aerial firefighting aircraft and some 700 firefighters were able to begin tackling the flames. And by Tuesday afternoon, people were able to start returning to their homes, with the wildfires having significantly calmed. This is the third fire that has hit the island in the last two weeks.

Elsewhere, fires have been blazing in the Brazilian rainforest – the single largest tropical rainforest, the ‘planet’s lungs’, which produce 20 per cent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere – for three whole weeks now.

Brazil’s research center, The National Institute for Space Research, highlighted that around 73,000 fires have been detected since the beginning of 2019 – a record number. And reports detail that the smoke billowing from the rainforest – nearly 1,700 miles away – had, on Monday, bathed the city of Sao Paulo in darkness.

NASA explained that wildfires in the Amazon region are rare for much of the year due to the wet weather, but during the dry season, fires tend to increase in July and August, peaking by early September and stopping by November.

Though NASA cites that wildfire figures for the region sit around the average mark for the past 15 years, suspicions have arisen over the hand that deforestation has played in exacerbating the rainforest fires. Ricardo Mello, Head the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Amazon Programme, said the fires were: "a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures,”; figures that showed that deforestation increased 88 per cent in June compared with the same period last year.

Many believe that the questionable incentives of newly elected right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who pledged to end ‘Shiite ecologist activism’, are to blame. Conservationists have suggested that he has only contributed to the spread of the Amazon wildfires, enabling loggers, miners and farmers to clear the land.

It’s a worrying state of affairs we now find ourselves in, especially in light of the fact that increased wildfires will only see planet Earth lurch ever closer to its untimely demise. We at ITIJ hope that the powers that be address the state of urgency and make serious headway in implementing a more sustainable means of living that reduces the impact society has on global warming. Better late than never, as they say.