Wildfires rage in the Amazon

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9:22 a.m. ET, August 23, 2019

Brazil’s president says his country lacks resources to combat wildfires

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday his country lacks the resources to combat the raging wildfires in the Amazon.

“The Amazon is bigger than Europe. How are you going to fight criminal fires in this area?” Bolsonaro said.

He also said the Ministry of Justice lacked enough staff to investigate how the fires began.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro suggested non-governmental organizations may have started the fires. He continued this line of reasoning on Thursday, saying the fires are related to environmentalists’ opposition to his government.

 “The NGOs lost money, the money that came from Norway and Germany to here. They’re unemployed. What do they need to do? Try to overthrow me,” he told reporters in Brasilia.

More context: The Amazon rainforest is about two-thirds the size of continental Europe. The Amazon covers 6.7 million square kilometers (2.5 million square miles), according to the World Wildlife Fund, while continental Europe covers 9.9 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles), according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

9:21 a.m. ET, August 23, 2019

France's Macron wants to talk about the Brazil wildfires at G7 summit. Here's what Bolsonaro thinks about that.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted Thursday that France's President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to raise the issue of the wildfires in Brazil at the G7 Summit "for personal political gains."

“I regret that President Macron is seeking to instrumentalize an internal issue in Brazil and in other Amazonian countries for personal political gains. The sensationalist tone that he uses to refer to the Amazon (even appealing to fake photos) does not contribute anything toward solving this problem.”

“The Brazilian government continues to be open to dialogue on the basis of objective data and on mutual respect. The suggestion of the French president that Amazonian issues be discussed in the G7 without countries in the region participating is reminiscent of a colonial mindset inappropriate in the 21st century.” 

More context: On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron joined the international outcry over the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest on Thursday, calling them an “international crisis”. “Our house is on fire. Literally,” Macron tweeted. “The Amazon, the lungs of our planet which produces 20% of our oxygen, is on fire. This is an international crisis.” He added: “G7 members, meet in two days to discuss this emergency."

Here's Bolsonaro's tweet responding to Macron:

  

4:11 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

French president: "Our house is on fire"

French President Emmanuel Macron joined the international outcry over the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest on Thursday, calling them an “international crisis.”

“Our house is on fire. Literally,” Macron tweeted on Thursday. “The Amazon, the lungs of our planet which produces 20% of our oxygen, is on fire. This is an international crisis.”

Macron tweeted that the members of the G7, who are set to meet on Saturday, will discuss the fires.

2:59 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

The Amazon could be a key to staving off the worst of the climate crisis

A resident navigates the Rio Negro in the Amazonia, Brazil.
A resident navigates the Rio Negro in the Amazonia, Brazil. CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

The Amazon rainforest, which is currently seeing record-setting wildfires, is an important part of the planet's ability to combat the climate crisis, activists say.

That means damage to the forrest could mean damage globally.

"The Amazon is incredibly important for our future, for our ability to stave off the worst of climate change," Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch, said.

Poirier continued: "This isn't hyperbole. We're looking at untold destruction — not just of the Amazon but for our entire planet."

The Amazon forest produces about 20% of the world's oxygen, and is often called "the planet's lungs."

According to the World Wildlife Fund, if it is irrevocably damaged, it could start emitting carbon instead — the major driver of climate change.

2:58 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

Smoke from the Amazon wildfires has covered almost half of Brazil

The European Union's satellite program, Copernicus, released a map showing smoke from the fires spreading all along Brazil to the east Atlantic coast.

The smoke has covered nearly half of the country and is even spilling over into neighboring Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Take a look:

2:11 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

This viral photo isn't actually of the 2019 Amazon wildfires

Social media helped increase coverage of the wildfires — but it's also contributing to misinformation.

One of the most-shared photos on social media shows a lush forest with a massive wall of smoke billowing from a fire. Musical artist and actor Jaden Smith and YouTube celebrity Logan Paul both shared it.

The problem: While the image does show the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, it's more than 30 years old: The Guardian, which republished the photo in 2007, says it was taken in June 1989.

2:02 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

It's hard to stop man-made wildfires

It's very difficult to halt human-induced blazes, Lincoln Muniz Alves, a researcher at The National Institute for Space Research's Earth System Science Centre, told CNN.

Environmental organizations say the wildfires in the Amazon were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who wanted to clear and utilize the land.

"Because the use of fire is a traditional part of tropical agriculture to clean agricultural land, grazing land, it is very difficult to stop it," Alves said in an email.

The National Institute for Space Research, Brazils's space research center.

1:10 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

Activists say Brazil's president encouraged ranchers to burn the Amazon

EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

As images and news of the fire spread, many activists are demanding accountability from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Here's why: When Bolsonaro was running for president, he made campaign promises to restore the economy by exploring the Amazon's economic potential. Now, environmental organizations say he has encouraged ranchers, farmers and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

(Remember: Environmental organizations and researchers say these wildfires were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who wanted to clear and utilize the land.)

The pro-business Bolsonaro has hamstrung Brazil's environmental enforcement agency with budget cuts amounting to $23 million — official data sent to CNN by Observatorio do Clima shows the enforcement agency's operations have gone down since Bolsonaro was sworn in.

What Bolsonaro is saying: Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires. On Wednesday, he speculated that the Amazon fires could have been caused by nonprofit organizations who are suffering from lack of funding, to "generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government."

12:51 p.m. ET, August 22, 2019

Why the Amazon is so important

The Iriri River in the Amazonian Rainforest is seen in March 2019.
The Iriri River in the Amazonian Rainforest is seen in March 2019.

The Amazon is often referred to as the planet's lungs. It produces 20% of the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere.

It is considered vital in slowing global warming, and it is home to uncountable species of fauna and flora.

Roughly half the size of the United States, it is the largest rainforest on the planet.