Amazon rainforest

Six volunteer firefighters use machetes to cut a path through the vines and underbrush of the Chiquitano forest in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. They're approaching the leading edge of a fire that's been burning for hours.

They attempt to smother it with shovelfuls of dirt and water they carry on their backs in tanks normally used to fumigate crops. But the smoke is getting thicker, the heat stronger and swirling winds push the flames forward. Realizing they are overmatched, José Zapata, the only trained firefighter among the group, orders his men to pull out.

Victor R. Caivano / AP

Last week Brazilian soldiers were working to put out this year’s record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest. The irony is that they were there on the orders of their commander-in-chief, President Jair Bolsonaro – because he’s trying to put out another kind of fire.

Leo Correa / AP

COMMENTARY

Here’s a dirty little secret about Amazon deforestation that liberals prefer you overlook: the slash-and-burn may be ugly under right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, but it was bad when leftists controlled the rainforest, too. Under former President Dilma Rousseff, the liberal darling who ruled Brazil from 2011 until her impeachment in 2016, Amazon deforestation actually increased.

In no way does that excuse Bolsonaro’s reckless efforts to accelerate the trend – which in 2019 have resulted in an alarming 85 percent rise in Amazon fires that have destroyed more than 7,000 square miles of rainforest. What it points out is that Brazil, left or right, is and largely has been a lousy steward of an emerald ecosystem known as the lungs of the earth.

Brazil says it will reject an offer of at least $22 million from the rich countries in the Group of Seven to help fight fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he doesn't want the money — unless it comes with an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron.

"Hello, planet! Wake up! Without the Amazon, you can't breathe!" protesters chanted Friday in Rio de Janeiro, as they filled the front steps of city hall carrying painted crosses traditionally seen at funerals. That night, they were mourning the rainforest.

More than 30 protests took place across Brazil this weekend to voice outrage over fires burning through the Amazon.

NASA via AP

The haunting pictures of smoke in Brazil this week have made the world aware of the emergency level of Amazon deforestation. Brazil experts here warn South Floridians this crisis is not as distant as it seems.

Updated 11:20 a.m. ET Saturday

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling on world leaders to place the massive fires destroying Brazil's Amazon rainforest at the top of their agenda as they gather in France's southwest for the Group of Seven summit.

Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest are proliferating at an alarming rate.

That's the gist of an announcement this week by the country's National Institute for Space Research, or INPE. According to the agency, there have been 74,155 fires in Brazil so far this year — most of which erupted in the Amazon. That represents an astonishing leap of more than 80% over last year and by far the most that the agency has recorded since it began compiling this data in 2013.

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Thanks to research done at the University of Miami, we know the epic dust clouds that drift out of North Africa may sometimes prevent hurricanes. (They block the solar energy those cyclones need to form out in the Atlantic.) Now UM scientists have made another discovery linking Africa and the Americas – and this time it’s about smoke. They’ve found that fire smoke from southern Africa also floats our way and has a big, often beneficial impact on the Amazon rainforest and our oceans.