The world was at a standstill last week when news broke out over fires engulfing the Amazon Rainforest in and around Brazil.
Guess who was first blamed for the blaze? The newly-elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—who media have dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics.” Is that any surprise?
It turns out, however, farmers were responsible for starting the fires. (The horror, the horror!) Even the New York Times debunked these claims:
How did the fires start?
Natural fires in the Amazon are rare, and the majority of these fires were set by farmers preparing Amazon-adjacent farmland for next year’s crops and pasture.
Much of the land that is burning was not old-growth rain forest, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use.
Have they not heard of prescribed burns? Forestry management? Clearly not.
Forbes’ Mark Shellenberger also debunked the misinformation being put out by celebrities:
Singers and actors including Madonna and Jaden Smith shared photos on social media that were seen by tens of millions of people. “The lungs of the Earth are in flames,” said actor Leonardo DiCaprio. “The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen,” tweeted soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. “The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” tweeted French President Emanuel Macron.
And yet the photos weren’t actually of the fires and many weren’t even of the Amazon. The photo Ronaldo shared was taken in southern Brazil, far from the Amazon, in 2013. The photo that DiCaprio and Macron shared is over 20 years old. The photo Madonna and Smith shared is over 30. Some celebrities shared photos from Montana, India, and Sweden.
To their credit, CNN and New York Times debunked the photos and other misinformation about the fires. “Deforestation is neither new nor limited to one nation,” explained CNN. “These fires were not caused by climate change,” noted The Times.
Shellenberger also noted the media’s claim that the Amazon Rainforest is the “lungs of the world”—an assertion experts cast great doubt on.
I was curious to hear what one of the world’s leading Amazon forest experts, Dan Nepstad, had to say about the “lungs” claim.
“It’s bullshit,” he said. “There’s no science behind that. The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen but it uses the same amount of oxygen through respiration so it’s a wash.”
Plants use respiration to convert nutrients from the soil into energy. They use photosynthesis to convert light into chemical energy, which can later be used in respiration.
What about The New York Times claim that “If enough rain forest is lost and can’t be restored, the area will become savanna, which doesn’t store as much carbon, meaning a reduction in the planet’s ‘lung capacity’”?
Also not true, said Nepstad, who was a lead author of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. “The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen, but so do soy farms and [cattle] pastures.”
Some people will no doubt wave away the “lungs” myth as nit-picking. The broader point is that there is an increase in fires in Brazil and something should be done about it.
But the “lungs” myth is just the tip of the iceberg. Consider that CNN ran a long segment with the banner, “Fires Burning at Record Rate in Amazon Forest” while a leading climate reporter claimed, “The current fires are without precedent in the past 20,000 years.”
This behavior is nothing new. Many on the Left will lay blame on their political opponents for environmental crises domestically and abroad. This is why many people aren’t placing their trust in Democrats.
Accuracy in reporting matters. It’s time to turn the temperature down on the excessive scaremongering too.