Brazil's Amazon fires: How they started — and how you can help.

The Amazon Rainforest is often called "The Planet's Lungs."

NASA
  • For weeks, fires have been burning in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, likely started by farmers and ranchers.
  • Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has blamed NGOs for starting the flames, offering no evidence to support the claim.
  • There are small steps you can take to help curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen.


The Amazon rainforest has been burning for weeks, blanketing cities in smoke and stoking already heated political conflicts in Brazil.

On Wednesday, the skies above São Paulo – the Western hemisphere's largest city ‚ turned dark with smoke, making day look like night. Ominous photos of São Paulo spread across news outlets and social media, helping the hashtags #Prayfor Amazonas and #AmazonRainforest to trend on Twitter.

Experts say most of the fires were ignited by humans — likely by farmers and ranchers to clear land, which is an annual practice. However, the current number of fires in Brazil is unusually high, with more than 73,000 so far in 2019 –= an 80 percent increase from 2018. Half of those fires started in the past month.

But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro — he ran a presidential campaign that openly called for exploitation, not conservation, of the Amazon — suggested NGOs were responsible for the fires.

"On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil," Bolsonaro said this week, without providing evidence.

But multiple prominent scientific and environmental groups — among them, Brazil's Observatório do Clima (Climate Observatory); the nonprofit Amazon Watch; and a Brazilian government agency called the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation — said Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric have encouraged rampant deforestation.

Officials at Observatório do Clima wrote in a statement:

"Since taking over, Bolsonaro and [environmental minister Ricardo Salles] have been dedicated to dismantling environmental governance structures and oversight bodies. They have extinguished the agency responsible for deforestation control plans in the Amazon and in the Cerrado, but have not yet presented any alternative plan against destruction; cut a quarter of Ibama's resources; left 8 of 9 regional superintendencies of the agency in the Amazon as yet, which inhibits surveillance operations; and demobilized the Special Inspection Group, Ibama's elite unit, which did not go to the Amazon field later this year."

Amid international outcry, many on social media have questioned why there haven't been more donations to help combat deforestation in the Amazon, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen and is often called "The Planet's Lungs."

What can you do to help?

It's going to take serious policy overhauls and supplementary conservation efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. But there are some steps you can take to help make a difference, such as:

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