Sao Paulo Covered in Darkness Over Heavy Smoke From Amazon Wildfires

Published August 21st, 2019 - 12:29 GMT
Sao Paulo was covered in black because of the Amazon fire which blocked out the sun. (Twitter)
Sao Paulo was covered in black because of the Amazon fire which blocked out the sun. (Twitter)
Sao Paolo was blanketed by thick smoke from Amazon wildfires on Monday afternoon.

Eerie pictures of Sao Paulo being blanketed in thick smoke from Amazon wildfires are going viral, with many concerned that a surge in deforestation is wreaking environmental disaster  

Sao Paulo - which is Brazil's largest city - was plunged into darkness around midday on Monday, with monitoring data from the World Meteorological Organization showing a large smoke plume spreading south-east to the Atlantic. 

Pictures taken around 4.30pm show that cars were forced to turn on their headlights in order to deal with low-visibility.  

Wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 fires detected so far by Brazil's space research center INPE. 

The surge marks an 83% increase over the same period of 2018, and is the highest since records began in 2013. 

Meanwhile, satellite images have detected 9,507 new forest fires in the country in the past four days alone, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world's largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming.

The shocking statistics come as concerns grow over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policy. 

The unprecedented surge in wildfires has occurred since Bolsonaro took office in January vowing to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring international concern over increased deforestation.

Bolsonaro brushed off criticism on Tuesday, saying it was the time of the year 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. But it is the season of the queimada,' he told reporters.

However, INPE said the large number of wildfires could not be attributed to the dry season or natural phenomena alone.

'There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,' said INPE researcher Alberto Setzer.

Wildfires are common in the dry season, but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching. Many of them may now be feeling empowered by the far-right President, who is a climate change skeptic with a strongly pro-agrobusiness agenda.

Deforestation in the rainforest surged 67% in the first seven months of the year, according to the INPE.  

Earlier this month, Germany and Norway announced the suspension of environmental funding for sustainability projects in Brazil's forests, both saying his far-right administration isn't committed to fighting deforestation. 

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On the campaign trail, Bolsonaro vowed to help mining and agribusiness companies expand their activities in environmentally protected areas, including the Amazon.

Since he was sworn into office on January 1, he has shown on multiple occasions that he will stick to his campaign promises.

He appointed a like-minded environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who was found guilty of modifying an environmental protection plan surrounding a river basin to favor mining groups when he was Secretary of Environment for Sao Paulo state between 2016 and 2018.

Over the past seven months, Bolsonaro and Salles have worked to weaken environmental legislation.

The president has passed a decree to cut the size of the National Council of the Environment from 100 to 21 members and has attempted to transfer the responsibility for delineating indigenous territories from the Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry, which one lawmaker described as 'letting the fox take over the chicken coop.'

Bolsonaro also said he was working on a proposal to regularize illegal mining in protected areas. 

At a press conference, Bolsonaro said he suspected agency officials of manipulating figures to make his administration look bad. Scientists and academics have come out in support of the institute and its former president, which have denied the accusations.

During a recent public appearance, Bolsonaro joked that if the 'absurd' deforestation numbers were true, 'then I am Captain Chainsaw!'

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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