Why Is the Amazon on Fire?

Tens of thousands of fires are raging through the world's largest rainforest. Global leaders and environmentalists are calling for answers.

Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year. That’s up 85% over the same period in 2018.

3,571 square miles of forest—about the size of Yellowstone National Park—were lost between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1, according to Brazil's National Space Research Institute.

NBC News/NASA; Joao Laet/Getty Images

Deforestation has claimed 74,663 square miles of Brazil’s Amazon basin since 2001.

The map below shows Brazil's rate of deforestation within the Amazon Basin (green) over a 15-year period.

After peaking in 2004, deforestation rates declined dramatically due to stricter enforcement of environmental laws.

Data: Global Forest Watch; Bloomberg/Getty Images

But since the election last year of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon has spiked. Bolsonaro campaigned on a promise to roll back environmental protections and open the Amazon rainforest to development and agribusiness.

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Bolsonaro suggested, without providing evidence, that environmental groups were setting the fires to make him look bad.

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Federal officials are investigating reports that farmers organized a “day of fire” on Aug. 10 to show support for Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen environmental regulations.


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The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity.


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Amid an international outcry over its delayed response to the fires, Brazil deployed 40,000 troops to the region to battle the blazes. Bolsonaro has been reluctant to accept help from European countries, suggesting the offers of international aid mask a plot to exploit the Amazon's resources and weaken Brazilian growth.