The Amazon is burning, the planet is heating, and it seems like the four horsemen of the climate change apocalypse are knocking at our door. But just how right are the prophets of ecological doom?
The Amazon rainforest is ablaze. Wildfires have increased by 83 percent this year on last, with nearly 80,000 individual fires spotted by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Fires in this region are typically started by farmers every year to clear overgrown land for grazing and replanting, but the extent of this year’s inferno has captured the attention of the global media like never before.
“Our home is burning,”tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron, promising to make the “emergency” top of the agenda at last month’s G7 summit. Macron was joined by US lawmakers, presidential candidates, climate activists, and much of the world’s news outlets, who blamed the pro-industrial policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for accelerating the forest’s demise.
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And it’s not just Brazil that’s burning. With swathes of Africa, the Arctic, and Asia on fire, the New York Times declared a “nightmare scenario” for the world’s forests; one that could drastically reduce the planet’s “lung capacity.”
But is that all true? The forests are indeed burning, and the fires riddling the Amazon are the worst seen there since 2010. But globally, wildfires have decreased drastically in the last two decades. That information doesn’t come from a climate-skeptic blog or the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, it’s from NASA, which has been studying wildfires with satellites since the 1980s.
According to the space agency, the area scorched every year by wildfires has dropped 24 percent since 2003. While land is still being deforested, it is now being more commonly done with machines, not fire, NASA researchers said. Indeed, “the changes in savanna, grassland, and tropical forest fire patterns are so large that they have so far offset some of the increased risk of fire caused by global warming,