Brazilians were plunged into afternoon darkness after the worst rainforest fires in history ravaged the Amazon Forest.
Sao Paulo, the largest city on the American continent, has been covered in vast plumes of smoke from massive forest fires which blocked the sun and turned the sky black from 3pm.
Alarmed locals posted photos on social media showing a city that appeared to have plunged into afternoon dusk, comparing it to a coming apocalypse.
The Amazon, often referred to as the lung of the Earth, is a vital source of oxygen that’s instrumental to slowing down the pace of global warming.
It’s also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. The fire is being called a “global emergency”.
WHAT CAUSED THIS ‘APOCALYPTIC’ SCENE?
Officials with Brazil’s National Institute of Meteorology said the dark skies were based on a combination of factors: cold, humid air, and smoke from massive fires burning in the Amazon rainforest several hundred kilometres away.
“The particulate matter, coming from the smoke produced by these large wildfires that are happening in Bolivia, coupled with the cold, humid air that is off the coast of São Paulo, caused the darkness,” Franco Vilela, a meteorologist at Inmet, told Globo.
Environmental activists say the scene was at least partially caused by the often deliberate burning of South American forests to make way for farmland.
Brazil’s space research centre, National Institute for Space Research (INPE), said the number of fires detected in the Amazon this year so far had reached 72,843 — an 83 per cent increase on last year and the highest since records began in 2013.
According to the INPE, more than one-and-a-half soccer fields’ worth of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed every minute.
The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20 per cent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. As the largest rainforest on the planet, it is considered a vital instrument in slowing global warming.
The fires are so prominent that they can now be seen from space, with satellites tracking a record number of wildfires burning across the Brazilian rainforest.
In the satellite image below, tweeted by the European Union Earth Observation Program’s Sentinel, streaks of white smoke can be seen amid the clouds over the rainforest:
Colombian musician Lido Pimienta described it as a global emergency.
“When Notre Dame was on fire, it was seen as a global emergency, millions of people physically sent millions to an already millionaire church/tourist attraction,” she said in a viral tweet.
“The Earth’s most important LUNG is ON FIRE right now, yet we are not nearly as concerned.”
BRAZIL’S LEADER BLAMES ACTIVISTS FOR FLAMES
The fires have shone a spotlight on Brazil’s conservative leader Jair Bolsonaro, who faces growing international criticism for failing to protect the world’s biggest rainforest.
Mr Bolsonaro, who is a well-known climate change sceptic, has previously sparked controversy by making campaign promises to restore Brazil’s economy by exploring the Amazon’s economic potential.
Just weeks ago, he fired the director of INPE following an argument between the pair about deforestation.
Environmental activists have argued his pro-business stance may have emboldened farmers and miners to seize control of a growing portion of Amazon land.
Mr Bolsonaro brushed off complaints, saying it was the “season of the queimada”, when farmers use fire to clear land.
“I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The conservative leader has in turn blamed non-governmental organisations of setting fires in the Amazon to damage his government’s image after he cut their funding.
Environment and climate experts disputed his unfounded claim as a “smoke screen” to hide the dismantling of protections for the world’s largest tropical rainforest and said farmers clearing land were the cause of a surge in forest fires.
“Everything indicates” that NGOs are going to the Amazon to “set fire” to the forest, Bolsonaro said in a Facebook Live broadcast. When asked if he had evidence to back up his claims, he said he had “no written plan,” adding “that’s not how it’s done.”
The former army captain turned politician said the slashing of NGO funding by his government could be a motive.
“Crime exists,” he said. “These people are missing the money.”
His remarks were decried as “sick” and “pitiful” by environmental activists in Brazil.
“This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement,” said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy co-ordinator. “Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy.”
— with Reuters