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Amazon Fires

(Fire in the forest: Piero di Cosimo, Ashmolean Museum)

Kip Hansen at WattsUpWithThat reports that forest fires in the Amazon are less than at the same time in 2016, and praises an article in the New York Times by Alexandria Symonds which gives a clear and fact-based account of what’s happening, noting particularly that most of the fires on the edge of the forest were set deliberately to clear land already planted with crops. She also prints a chart showing that the number of square miles burned has been declining sharply since 2004, and that this year’s loss is less than a quarter of that in the record year of 1995.

Zero Hedge has an article (sourced from Bloomberg) showing that in the past two days there have been five times as many forest fires reported in Angola and the Congo than in Brazil.

And finally, the BBC had an article yesterday with some handy data, showing that, while current fires are worse than in the past few years, “Brazil experienced more intense fires in the previous decade.”

The BBC’s article is credited simply to “the Visual and Data Journalism Team.” Remember thaname the next time there are staff cuts at the Beeb.

It seems everyone knows what’s going on except the heads of state at the G7 summit and about a million tv news presenters.

31 thoughts on “Amazon Fires

  1. ANDY
    Thanks. Professor Malhi, who is Professor of Ecosystem Science at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests, among other things, puts net contribution of tropical forests to oxygen content of atmosphere at zero. Will anyone correct the newsreaders, one wonders?

    Some mainstream journalists (NYT, BBC, Bloomberg) have for some unknown reason, foregone the pleasure of adding to the hysteria and published some facts that would make a Greenpeace activist or Extinction Rebel green with rage if they ever found out. Surely news media will be falling over themselves to interview the director of Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests? (I shall comment on his blog right away.)

    Since politicians are ensuring that the Amazon story won’t go away, this seems like a golden opportunity to point this out in the mainstream media, and maybe prick some thick hides, there where hide the… never mind.

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  2. Some barely remembered things. Oxygen is a pretty fierce chemical – it will react with so many things, not least lumps of metal like an old-fashioned, poorly-protected car. I’ve heard it said that if a creature from outer space ever landed and popped-out of his spacecraft, he might well dissolve or disintegrate in our corrosive atmosphere thanks to O2. I’ve also heard that even if all oxygen input into the atmosphere was to stop dead, it would take a mighty long time (despite the chemical voracity or our number one most precious airborne gas) for the oxygen levels to reduce to the point where we’d all get a bit breathless – maybe thousands of years? So nothing to worry about there if my memory is in the vicinity of being right on this. Far more worrisome are the still relatively low levels of our second most precious airborne gas ….

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  3. The contrast between the way the Siberian forest fires were reported and the reporting of the Amazonian fires is stark. In both cases, deliberate fire-starting is a big issue. But, if one is to believe the BBC, the former were clearly the result of global warming, and deliberate fire starting was very much a secondary consideration, if it could be considered at all:

    https://cliscep.com/2019/08/06/the-truth-is-in-the-ashes/

    By contrast, the BBC readily admits that the Amazonian fires were clearly started deliberately – so the stress now is upon the untold damage this will cause to global warming. In fact, the only difference I can see is that the deliberate nature of the Amazonian fires was just too in-your-face even for the BBC to ignore, otherwise they would be putting them down entirely to global warming, as they did with the Siberian fires.

    As for the statistical trends, it just goes to show how one can deceive oneself by focussing only upon numbers of fires rather than the extent of burning. As has been pointed out, the recent burning is much less intense than that experienced ten to fifteen years ago.

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  4. Given the surprising level of useful, factual and non-hysterical information available at two of the world’s most pro-catastrophe media – the BBC and the NYT – I had a look at the third of the Big Three Climate Girl’s Blouses – the Guardian /Observer.

    Today’s on-line paper has three articles on the subject, all concentrating on what a frightful chap Bolsonaro is. Here are some extracts from this one:
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/24/bolsonaro-enjoys-comedy-club-outing-as-brazils-wildfire-crisis-rages-on

    Bolsonaro … outrage … fart … poo … the French president Emmanuel Macron called for the international community to help Brazil and its neighbours fight the fires … the former commander of the army described his surprise when one of his officers found the King of Norway in a village in the Yanomami indigenous reserve…

    Though they mention Macron’s desire to help, they don’t mention him provoking an international incident by publicly calling Bolsonaro a liar, and talking about “ecocide” and the world “choking from lack of oxygen.”

    However, yesterday the Guardian did have this article (which oddly doesn’t come up as a “related story” under today’s three):
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/23/amazon-fires-what-is-happening-anything-we-can-do#
    which did correct some of the sylvan myths:

    Does this happen every year? Yes
    What is the cause? Most of the fires are agricultural, either smallholders burning stubble after harvest, or farmers clearing forest for cropland…
    Is the entire forest ablaze? No.
    Do we need to worry about oxygen? No.

    though they rather spoil the effort at seriousness with a map which shows Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro outside Brazil.

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  5. You may like to check out my comment at WUWT:
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/08/23/amazon-fires-update/#comment-2778466

    Background on Rainforest myths and debunking of the “20% of earth’s oxygen” message being pushed by Macron and repeated ad infinitum across the media:

    Eg from Yale School of Environment and Forestry, 2014:
    “The Amazon rain forest is often perceived as the lungs of the planet. In fact, almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed by the forest at night. In other words, the Amazon rain forest is a closed system that uses all its own oxygen and carbon dioxide.”

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  6. Mrs MBC is from Brazil, and has been looking up some of the political context.
    Bolsonaro took over after around 15 years of socialist rule with the economy in deep recession. Two areas where costs were quickly cut were subsidies to NGOs and to the mainstream media. These are the very organisations behind much of the misinformation.
    Also, much of the crop burning has been outlawed in the last 20 years. For instance, before sugar cane was harvested the crop was burnt to eliminate the foliage. It made for unhealthy conditions for the machete wielding workers who would end each day looking like coal miners.

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  7. The BBC Dracula time radio progs gave a new angle
    satellite measurements under-estimate the amount of burning cos it is sometimes hidden beneath the canopy
    .. Sounds like something that they read in the Guardian

    As ever the MSM try to hype black and white narratives
    whereas the real world is full colour complex
    It does matter if burning is virgin forest or clearing of last years crops.

    The radio progs also claimed that Bolsonaro wanted to put motorways across the jungle
    Well that is funny, cos the growth rate and rain of the jungle is so great it just grew over old roads.

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  8. Ah you posted a rather useful Tony Heller video which debunks BBC/MSM hysterical headlines
    .. by pointing out the BBC article has a paragraph towards the end that quotes NASA asserting that this years fires are lower than normal.

    If people post raw links, with any explanation, I never click on them.

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  9. A few quotes from Friday’s PM programme on Radio 4:

    The lungs of the planet are on fire.

    — BBC presenter

    The Amazon plays a crucial role in keeping the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels in check. Plants and trees take in the carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air. The Amazon produces 20% of the oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere.

    — BBC presenter

    Already some reports suggest that 2019 has seen the highest number of fires in in Brazil in a single year.

    — BBC presenter

    Every fifth glass of water that we’re drinking is essentially Amazon water.

    — Globe-trotting, XR-supporting leftie-luvvie Simon McBurney

    In the programme’s favour, it did ascribe the fires to agriculture rather than climate change. Prog available here for another few weeks:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0007rtx

    Some of McB’s claims about agriculture were a bit odd. When Brazilian farmers clear the forest to plant soybean, do they really soak the soil with insecticides to a depth of 9 metres? And do they really fertilize the soybean with liquefied fish that had been scooped out of the oceans by vast tankers?

    McB’s tangential attacks on Trump, Brexit and GM crops were a bit less surprising. He is a posh London leftie-luvvie, after all.

    The BBC reckoned that McB is an Amazon expert because a few years ago a social justice charity (People’s Palace Projects) run by a London university (QMUL) paid for him to fly to Brazil and play with binaural microphones at a tribal festival that is half about death and half about releasing pubescent girls from compulsory confinement and parading them naked to offer them for marriage.

    That year’s festival was sponsored by Petrobras, Brazil’s largest oil company. Not McB’s fault but perhaps worth mentioning given that he’s a climate hysteric who, a year after his Brazilian jaunt, campaigned successfully for BP to stop sponsoring the Edinburgh Festival.

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  10. VINNY BURGOO

    The BBC reckoned that McBurney is an Amazon expert because a few years ago a social justice charity … paid for him to fly to Brazil and play with binaural microphones at a tribal festival that is half about death and half about releasing pubescent girls from compulsory confinement and parading them naked to offer them for marriage. That year’s festival was sponsored by Petrobras, Brazil’s largest oil company.

    How do you know these things? I’m tempted to start a special feature here: “Vinny Burgoo’s Extraordinary Climate Facts.”

    The quotes from McBurney confirm the point I’m making, which seems to me significant, that a gulf is opening up in the usual activist media between the standard catastrophism, as typified by McBurney, and a new interest in relevant facts, taken from a number of impeccable sources (NASA, etc) which blow the catastrophism narrative to bits. This morning I added CNN to my list when they quoted an expert opinion that Amazon loss due to fire was not increasing, with a graph complete with trend line.

    Tentative explanations I can think of are:
    – The media hesitate between bugbears: is it Bolsinaro and big farming or global warming?
    – The Siberian fires mentioned by John Ridgway above further confuse the issue. Is it cause or effect, or both?
    – There are no reporters on the spot to deliver breathless catastrophic eye witness reports. The Guardian does its reporting from Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro.
    – The journalists aren’t prepared for a complex narrative. They can get the “lungs of the planet are suffocating” stuff from their activist friends, but when they go on the internet for a graph, they turn up something that contradicts the message.

    The net result is that the media end up doing something which on any other subject would be considered normal: different journalists have differing sources and opinions or turn up different facts. Let’s hope that people with more clout than us, like politicians and other journalists, notice.

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  11. I reckon XR’s extreme eschatonanism has forced more people in academia and the media to take a more responsible attitude towards daft claims made by activists. The nonsense is still reported as fact by various outlets and it usually stays online but rebuttals are far more common than they were a couple of years ago. They are not usually as prominent as the nonsense being rebutted but it’s a start.

    So long live XR!

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  12. That Spiked article quotes the Grauniad on the widely disseminated notion that 20% of the atmosphere’s oxygen comes from the Amazon: “it is not clear where this figure originated”.

    The earliest mention of that exact figure (20%) that I’ve found is in teaching materials sent to British schools in 2010 by Hugh Montgomery’s Project Genie but there’ll certainly be earlier examples.

    As for the ‘lungs of the Earth’ coinage and the notion that the Amazon is a major contributor to atmospheric oxygen, the consensus is that they both originated in a 1971 article in a Brazilian magazine that had misinterpreted comments made by a German scientist, Harald Sioli, during a telephone interview.

    The earliest mention of such things that I can find in English books or newspapers is in a Grauniad article from 4th Feb the following year. It looks a whole lot like a grotesque (Graunesque?) mangling of the Sioli episode:

    The most frightening risk is to the world’s oxygen supplies. A German scientist, writing to Paulo de Almeida Machado, the director of [INPA, the National Institute of Amazonian Research] in Manaus, suggested that Amazonia might be responsible for half the oxygen produced in the world.

    Machado and Sioli did know each other but it’s very unlikely that Sioli would have pushed such notions to Machado or anyone else. His biog:

    https://limnology.org/notable-limnologists/harald-sioli/

    For the record, the 1971 Grauniad article was by Richard Bourne and continued thus:

    The technical arguments are complicated and to some extent still hypothetical. But it is suggested that carbon dioxide, pumped into the atmosphere by the industrial countries so that the proportion has risen from 10 to 15 per cent over the last hundred years, is potentially dangerous to man; that the tropical forests which convert the CO2 into cellulose and oxygen by photosynthesis, are much more effective for the purpose than temperate trees which do not grow all the year round; and that Amazonia is earning her keep on a world scale. Too much CO2 would make cities uninhabitable and raise the temperature of the planet by more than two degrees Centigrade.

    Cool! Atmospheric CO2 is 1/500th of what it was in 1972!

    Also cool: In those days they were still using ‘by more than’ rather than ‘up to’.

    (Also for the record: I do think that felling the remaining Amazonian forests would be a tragedy but it’s probably unavoidable except for a few little scraps the size of Wales here and there.)

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  13. The most prominent effect of harvesting rainforest is that the local climate changes into a savana climate as did in Madagascar and West Africa, where it did get notably drier.

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  14. It’s been known for a decade or twelve that tropical rainforests are already “net zero”. They don’t contribute to global oxygen levels – nor do they absorb CO2. This is because as “climax” communities they cease building net biomass. There is a lot of biomass in such forests but necromass (dead material) is quickly rotted down. There are few nutrients (minerals etc) and these are rapidly recycled. It’s bit of a red queen situation (running to stand still) although that reference is generally used to explain evolution, not the flow of energy in communities.

    My old (’86 special) ecology textbook has standing biomass in tropical forests at 45 kgm-2 and productivity at 2.2 kgm-2 (dry wt); the implication at face value is that losses could be made good in two decades.

    However, smaller plants grow more slowly so this paints too rosy a picture.

    The only time when tropical forests accumulate C is when they are peat forming. Of course peat layers usually reach a steady state depth after a few thousand years where no more C is locked up. And fires release all of the C in biomass if severe enough.

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  15. Lungs take in Oxygen and produce Carbon Dioxide in return. Plants do the reverse of that. It’s one of the worst analogies possible to call the Amazon “lungs”, but sadly typical of the lack of science in the Green fringe.

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  16. Chester. Only in the light. At night, forests release CO2. If I have read it correctly, it is being claimed that the amount of CO2 released from the Amazonian Forests (high according to the OCO satellite maps) is matched by the amount of oxygen produced during the day (so having a net zero effect).

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  17. I referred earlier to a NYT op-ed from 2014, in which researcher Nadine Unger said that forests were not necessarily cooling the planet, [always assuming it needs cooling]:

    There was a paper in Nature in January this year, which mentioned the 2014 Unger paper https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00122-z and reported that 30 scientists had challenged Unger at the time, in a letter to Mongabay. It also quotes Unger as having received “death threats” and that several of her colleagues would no longer speak to her. You can understand why:

    From her 2014 OP-Ed:
    “Deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The assumption is that planting trees and avoiding further deforestation provides a convenient carbon capture and storage facility on the land. That is the conventional wisdom. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

    “Moreover, it is a myth that photosynthesis controls the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Even if all photosynthesis on the planet were shut down, the atmosphere’s oxygen content would change by less than 1 percent.”

    “In fact, almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed by the forest at night. In other words, the Amazon rain forest is a closed system that uses all its own oxygen
    and carbon dioxide.

    The Mongabay letter is here:
    https://news.mongabay.com/2014/09/scientists-rebut-nytimes-op-ed-to-save-the-planet-dont-plant-trees/

    Top of the list was a certain Daniel Nepstadt who is quoted in the Forbes article mentioned by Paul above. It seems he now agrees with Unger, having organised the Mongabay letter in 2014.

    Nepstad re the 20% oxygen claim: “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.”

    Wind back to 2010 and “Amazongate”, with this article by the sadly missed Christopher Booker:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/7488629/WWF-hopes-to-find-60-billion-growing-on-trees.html

    “The prospect of a billion-dollar windfall explains the sharp reaction to the “Amazongate” scandal, in which the IPCC falsely claimed that up to 40 percent of the rainforest could be at risk from even a slight drop in rainfall.

    In standing its ground, the IPCC was strongly supported by the WWF, and by Daniel Nepstad, a senior scientist from the US Woods Hole Research Centre.”

    Nature again:
    “Forest schemes got a big boost from the 2015 Paris climate accord, which for the first time counted all countries’ efforts to offset their carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use and other sources by planting or protecting forests. China aims to plant trees over an area up to four times the size of the United Kingdom.

    The European Union is moving towards allowing countries to include forest planting in their plans to fight climate change; some nations in the bloc have also pledged billions of dollars to tropical forest programmes.”

    To estimate the climate impact of planting forests in different parts of the United States, ecologist Christopher Williams at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, is combining global satellite data collected over more than a decade with carbon-sequestration figures based on data from the US Forest Service.

    Williams has found that some resist considering albedo effects, including representatives of companies hoping to sell carbon credits for forest projects. “Even other scientists sometimes have disbelief in the magnitude of the albedo effect, or even its existence,” he says.

    “I have heard scientists say that if we found forest LOSS cooled the planet, we wouldn’t publish it.”

    Last word to Nadine Unger: “The science says that spending precious dollars for climate change mitigation on forestry is high-risk: We don’t know that it would cool the planet, and we have good reason to fear it might have precisely the opposite effect. More funding for forestry might seem like a tempting easy win for the world leaders at the United Nations, but it’s a bad bet.”

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  18. Roy Spencer on his blog (and repeated at WUWT) produces a bar graph illustrating that deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest has decreased rapidly in recent years (and since clearance is accompanied by burning, so has the annual burn). However, what goes unmentioned is that cleared land cannot recover because most of the nutrients reside in the trees (and are endlessly recycled). Once the nutrients are removed the forest cannot be recovered. Thus each year’s loss cannot is permanent, and this years fires are removing forest from an ever decreasing base.

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  19. ALAN KENDALL

    …Once the nutrients are removed the forest cannot be recovered. Thus each year’s loss is permanent…

    That’s the kind of information, crucial to the environmentalists’ case, that establishes the importance of preserving thousand year old forests. Yet I haven’t seen any eco-friendly article making this point. If you make greening the planet your slogan, apparently it doesn’t matter whether it’s a field of soya, a virgin rain forest, or a golf course.

    Nor have I seen a statement in the dozens of articles I’ve scanned of the scale of the burning. Even if the 1000 sq. miles burned per year is all virgin forest, (and not, as many articles have stated, mostly land already cultivated) that represents 0.1% of the total area. It’ll all be gone in a thousand years if Bolsonaro has his way!

    Or to put it another way, if it takes thirty years to persuade the countries of Amazonia to preserve this precious biological heritage, it’ll be too late for 3% of the forest. We’ll only have 97% left. Given that a recent expedition found six new species of beetles on a single tree, that’s a whole lot of lost species to moan about.

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  20. Geoff there also is the story that Amazonian nutrients ultimately are replenished from dust swept across the Atlantic from the Sahara.
    As to confirming the essential recycling of nutrients such that most reside within the living trees, this is not really in my own knowledge set (I believe I acquired it from ecologists teaching at UEA). Perhaps we might seek advice from Jit.

    Note that the graph I referred to showed area deforested, not area burned. So non- forested land that was subsequently burned would not be counted.

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  21. Pingback: Environmentalism’s Divergence Problem | Climate Scepticism

  22. ALAN KENDALL

    …Once the nutrients are removed the forest cannot be recovered. Thus each year’s loss is permanent…

    This is only true if seen through short time scales. When the first European explorers navigated the Amazon they found an advanced culture that had cleared the forest up to 40 miles from the river for farming. By the time the next Europeans went there, a generation later, the native population had crashed due to the introduction of disease by the previous Europeans and the forest had reclaimed all the land that was previously used for farming.

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  23. BillBedford. My own experience with the Amazonian rainforest is minimal, but I have observed the effect of deforestation in parts of western Peru. There, slash and burn was not recoverable from, but resulted in massive soil loss – the soils being impoverished laterites.
    I also relied upon information sources such as
    https://rainforests.mongabay.com/0502.htm
    and partially remembered conversations with a Brazilian ecologist colleague at UEA.

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