Over the past few weeks, talk of the Amazon being ‘on fire’ has spread internationally at an incredibly fast rate. Tweets from celebrities ranging from Madonna to Leonardo DiCaprio and even Ronaldo have circulated the internet and social media, highlighting the perceived seriousness of the situation. But, one question does arise amongst all of the panic, and that question is: is what’s being said really happening?
When looking through the litany of articles available on mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times, the picture being painted becomes abundantly clear: the Amazon rainforest, which supposedly produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, is on fire and seriously at risk of being permanently destroyed. The problem with these claims is that they simply aren’t true.
Firstly, the Amazon rainforest doesn’t produce 20% of the world’s oxygen, it actually produces around 6%. Jonathan Foley, former executive director of the California Academy of Sciences and founder of Project Drawdown (a group looking into climate change), has said that mathematically, it’s impossible for the Amazon to produce that much oxygen. This uncited and false 20% number was made famous by French President Emmanuel Macron and the celebrities listed above when they tweeted it out.
Secondly, the Amazon is not experiencing a huge or unexpected increase in forest fires as claimed by certain mainstream media outlets. The number of fires is 80% higher than it was in 2018, however its only 7% higher than the average over the past 10 years.
For example, between 2003 and 2008, Brazil had the highest incidence of burning, yet reporting conducted on this was nothing like what’s been seen in the last few weeks. One of the reasons for this probably has something to do with Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, and his populist leanings. Lula, the President of Brazil between 2003 and 2011, wasn’t criticised nearly as much despite the incredibly high number of forest fires.
Another interesting and unsurprising fact has to do with the pictures tweeted out by Macron and the myriad celebrities who felt it necessary to tweet about this. Firstly, the concerning photo shared by Macron is actually over 20 years old and the photos shared by DiCaprio, Madonna and Ronaldo are more than 20, more than 30 and more than 6 years old respectively. To make it that much more ridiculous, the photo shared by Ronaldo is not even of the Amazon.
This just goes to show exactly how much research was conducted by these people before they made their positions clear. Fortunately though, the New York Times and CNN did call this out and debunk the photos, also stating that the fires were not caused by climate change.
On a bittersweet note, what hasn’t really been discussed is the fact that deforestation in the Amazon has actually decreased by 70% between 2004 and 2012 and deforestation at present remains at only 25% of its peak in 2004. This positive fact is bittersweet because most people aren’t aware of it and believe the hysteria spread by many mainstream media outlets and celebrities.
I suppose the main point of this article is to point out that the current hysteria surrounding what’s occurring in the Amazon is not warranted or justified and only highlights the need to remain critical of what you’re told by any media outlet or article, and that includes this one. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to conduct your own research into this issue.
Furthermore, this article is not trying to attack or vilify those who are concerned with the wellbeing of the Amazon, because I believe everyone should be. It’s just important that a rational approach devoid of hysteria be taken when examining any issue, including this one.