While Celebrities Pass Off Fake Pictures Of Burning Amazon, Here’s What The Raging Fires Actually Look Like

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The tens of thousands of fires burning in the Amazon right now have caught the attention of environmentalists, politicians and celebrities alike. Unfortunately, many of them have been spreading bad information in the form of decades-old pictures and incorrect facts, such as the claim that the Amazon is the “lungs of the world,” according to Forbes

Singers and actors including Madonna and Jaden Smith shared photos on social media that were seen by tens of millions of people. “The lungs of the Earth are in flames,” said actor Leonardo DiCaprio. “The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen,” tweeted soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. “The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” tweeted French President Emanuel Macron. –Forbes

And while the fires raging in the Amazon are undoubtedly concerning, “the photos weren’t actually of the fires and many weren’t even of the Amazon,” according to Forbes

The photo Ronaldo shared was taken in southern Brazil, far from the Amazon, in 2013. The photo that DiCaprio and Macron shared is over 20 years old. The photo Madonna and Smith shared is over 30. Some celebrities shared photos from Montana, India, and Sweden. –Forbes

And as the New York Times noted on Friday, “These fires were not caused by climate change,” nor is the Amazon the “lungs of the world.” 

“It’s bullshit,” said Dan Nepstad – one of the world’s leading experts on the Amazon forest. “There’s no science behind that. The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen but it uses the same amount of oxygen through respiration so it’s a wash.

Also debunked is a claim by CNN that the fires are burning at a record rate, as well as a claim by a leading climate reporter that “The current fires are without precedent in the past 20,000 years.”

According to Nepstad, the number of fires in 2019 is just 7% higher than average over the last 10 years. 

So what do the fires actually look like?

Here are some current photos of the devastation by photographer Leonardo Carrato, via Bloomberg

The Amazon biome accounted for 52% of Brazil’s fire reports this year, with more than 40,000 outbreaks since January, according to data from INPE.

In August alone more than 26,000 fires were detected there. 

Conservation efforts had limited Amazon deforestation, but data from INPE show that trend broke in 2012. Tree losses soared 73 percent between 2012 and 2018, coinciding with a period of economic malaise. 

Last season alone, almost 2 million acres, an area bigger than Shanghai, were cleared from the world’s largest rainforest.

An analysis by Global Forest Watch from 2001 to 2015 showed that the conversion of forest and shrubland to agriculture and mining were among the main catalysts for tree loss.

Commodities are key drivers behind the increased pace of deforestation.

Soybean acreage in the Amazon is up more than fourfold in the past 12 years, representing 13% of Brazil’s total soy area in the 2017-18 season. However, almost all of the increase is from pastures that have been converted to farmland

Meat-packing companies in Brazil have made a commitment to no longer source from livestock farmers involved in deforestation. It’s a hard task given difficulties in tracking individual cattle as they move through the supply chain.

Firefighting efforts have been stepped up in recent days as well as the resources available for it. Brazil’s government approved the immediate release of $9.3 million while G-7 leaders have committed $20 million.

Brazilian soldiers unload equipment from a vehicle near the Amazon rainforest in Porto Velho, Rondonia state. President Bolsonaro had authorized military operations in nine states to combat the fires.

Perhaps celebrities and politicians will share these instead.

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