Amazon rainforest fires: Everything we know and how you can help
Homes of indigenous tribes are being destroyed as fires continue to rage.
Shelby BrownEditor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
The number of fires in Brazil this year is the highest on record since 2013 and is up by 85% from last year alone, CNN reported. So far this year, more than 80,000 fires in the country have been detected by Brazil's space research center, INPE.
Attention to the fires surged worldwide in mid-August when social media users rallied around several trending hashtags. People around the globe also took to the streets in protest, demanding action to stop the fires. Eventually, foreign leaders began to speak out on social media and develop a plan to help put out the fires.
Here's everything we know about the ongoing fires in the Amazon and multiple ways you can help.
What caused the fires?
While the Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid, July and August -- the onset of the dry season -- are the region's driest months, with "activity" typically peaking by early September and stopping by mid-November, according to
Fire is often used to clear out the land for farming or ranching. For that reason, the vast majority of the fires can be attributed to humans, Christian Poirier, program director of the nonprofit Amazon Watch, told CNN.
In a release on Aug. 22, Greenpeace said forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious circle. As the number of fires increase, greenhouse gas emissions do too. This makes the planet's overall temperature rise, the organization said. As the temperature increases, extreme weather events like major droughts happen more often.
"In addition to increasing emissions, deforestation contributes directly to a change in rainfall patterns in the affected region, extending the length of the dry season, further affecting forests, biodiversity, agriculture and human health," Greenpeace said in the release.
The fires have spread to Bolivia and Paraguay, according to a report from Telesur on Aug. 28. The smoke can be felt in Uruguay and Argentina. Previously, satellite images showed fires in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondonia, Para and Mato Grosso. The state of Amazonas is most affected, according to Euronews.
Effects of damage to the Amazon go far beyond Brazil and its neighbors. The area's rainforest generates more than 20% of the world's oxygen and is home to 10% of the world's known biodiversity. The Amazon is referred to as the "lungs of the planet" and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, with impacts on everything from farms to drinking water.
Watch this: On the ground and in the cloud, the fight to save the Amazon
The smoke from the fires is visible from space. The European Union Earth Observation Program's Sentinel satellites captured images of "significant amounts of smoke" over Amazonas, Rondonia and other areas. NASA has been monitoring the fires. Over the past week, satellites from the EU and NASA have been tweeting images of the smoke on social media. Satellites have also kept tabs on the uptick in fires over this year, according to NASA.
On Aug. 20, Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist, tweeted data showing smoke from the fires covering about half of Brazil. Later in the week, the BBC tweeted a map showing similar data.
The patchy rain predicted through Sept. 10 is expected to bring minor relief but won't help to extinguish the fire, Reuters reported Aug. 27. The rain that's forecast for the next two weeks is reportedly set to fall in the areas that need it the least.
Bolivia President Evo Morales contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" last week to help extinguish the fires, Telesur reported. The Supertanker is capable of flying with 115,000 liters (over 30,000 gallons).
Was any action taken at the G7 Summit?
Bolsonaro rejected a $20 million aid package from the G7 countries that would go toward extinguishing the flames devastating the rainforest. His chief of staff reportedly said French President Emmanuel Macron should take care of "his home and his colonies," according to the Guardian. Bolsonaro reportedly said Brazil would only consider the international aid if Macron retracted comments that he found offensive about his country's indigenous protection policies.
Bolsonaro's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his country will continue to support the efforts to save the Amazon. He said Canada is offering to send $15 million and "water bombers" to help fight the fires, the CBC reported Aug. 26.
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro expressed concern about the fires devastating Brazil and Bolivia and offered aid to help extinguish them. The Venezuelan Chancellery also expressed solidarity with the indigenous communities in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru.
"Venezuela expresses its deep concern about the gigantic and terrible fires that devastate the Amazon region in the territory of several South American countries, with very serious impacts on the population, ecosystems and biological diversity of the area," Venezuela's Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs said in a statement to Brasil247 on Friday.
The government of Venezuela also proposed a meeting of foreign ministers of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization on Friday, posting a letter from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
Finland's Prime Minister, Antti Rinne, also released a statement saying that the fires in Brazil were "extremely serious" and that he had contacted the European Commission.
"Brazilian rainforests are vital for the world's climate. I am truly worried about the attitude Brazil seems to have adopted right now regarding its own forests. Brazil should do all it takes to end the fires that are a danger to our whole civilization," Rinne said in the statement.
"The Club calls on international lenders and institutions to reconsider their investments in Brazil after President Jair Bolsonaro's reckless exploitation and destruction of a critical resource for the future of humanity," Javier Sierra, the Sierra Club's associate director of communications for Latino media, said in an email.
Sierra pointed out that both Norway and Germany have already said they would cease to provide funds for the Amazon's preservation until Bolsonaro reverses course.
"Those who destroy the Amazon and let deforestation continue unabated are encouraged in doing so by the Bolsonaro government's actions and policies. Since taking office, the current government has been systematically dismantling Brazil's environmental policy," Danicley Aguiar of Greenpeace Brazil said in a release Aug. 22.
The World Wildlife Fund's European policy office released a statement the same day. The organization called on Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname to protect the amazon, fight deforestation and reduce the causes of the fire. The WWF also addressed the EU and its Member States to take action as well.
Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres.
Reduce your paper and wood consumption. Double-check with Rainforest Alliance that what you're buying is considered rainforest-safe. You can also purchase rainforest-safe products from the alliance's site.
Reduce your beef intake. Beef found in processed products and fast-food burgers is often linked to deforestation.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada) works to protect the species in the Amazon and around the world.
Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 searches you run.
Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends Indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower Indigenous peoples.
Amazon Conservation accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward. You can help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve Indigenous lands and more.
Donate to One Tree Planted, which works to stop deforestation around the world and in the Amazon rainforest. One Tree Planted will keep you updated on the Peru Project and the impact your trees are having on the community.
Sign Greenpeace's petition telling the Brazilian government to save the Amazon rainforest and protect the lands of indigenous and traditional communities.
Editors' note: CNET is owned by CBS.
This story was originally published Aug. 21, 2019. It is updated regularly to make note of new developments.
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