The Amazon is burning. Since the beginning of the year, when Jair Bolsonaro took office—after saying that protecting forests was blocking economic growth—there have been 74,155 fires in the country, most in the Brazilian Amazon, according to the country’s space agency. That’s 80% more than the same period in the previous year; nearly half of the fires started burning in the past month. On Monday, the sky blackened over São Paulo as smoke from thousands of miles away blew over the city. And the year’s fire season is just beginning: it usually peaks between August and October.
A map from Global Forest Watch, a project from the nonprofit World Resources Institute, shows fire alerts in near real time, pulling data from NASA satellites that track changes in heat and brightness, and then running the data through an algorithm to determine if it’s a fire. (They technically map “fire alerts,” because it’s not possible to tell whether one dot on the map is its own fire or part of an adjacent one). The map is updated every 12 hours.
For corporations that source products from the Amazon—whether they’re fast-food chains buying beef, or manufacturers buying palm oil for use in shampoo or ice cream—a pro version of the map, which also tracks deforestation, sends alerts based on the location of that company’s suppliers. Businesses need to take the step to understand their supply chain in detail, and then they can monitor it. “The more specific they can get their information about where their products are coming from, the easier it is to link that to actual deforestation or fires on the ground,” says Mikaela Weisse, manager of Global Forest Watch. “That’s how they’re able to make decisions about dropping suppliers or giving warnings to suppliers that aren’t up to their standards.”
Many of the fires are set by farmers to clear land. In early August, farmers in the Amazon self-declared a “fire day” to burn trees, emboldened by the fact that the government isn’t enforcing rainforest protections that are part of national law. In one area, according to the Guardian, the number of fires on the weekend of August 10 was 900% higher than it was the year before. These might be called wildfires, but they aren’t. “It’s very rare to have fires starting naturally in the Amazon,” says Weisse. “And so almost everything that we’re seeing is a result of human activity, and it’s mostly happening along roads or in farms or where people are.”