Millions were severely misinformed about the scope and severity of the wildfires in the Amazon by politically motivated bloggers during late August. They now believe that miners were responsible for the wildfires in Brazil, thanks to those sources and Instagram posts from celebrities and politicians. Now that hurricanes have supplanted Brazilian forest fires as the monthly apocalyptic event threatening mankind, it’s unlikely any of the misstatements will ever be corrected — the damage is done.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio shared a post, “The lungs of the Earth are in flames” on Instagram. Just before the G7 meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron warned of a “real ecocide.” One of the photographs shared by Macron and DiCaprio on social media and “liked” by millions was stock photography attributed to a photographer who died in 2003. The allegations associated with photos, however, will not be withdrawn.
In late August, VoxMedia, an American opinion website founded five years ago, reported “the vast majority of the fires burning in the Amazon right now were started by humans in service of mining, logging and agriculture.” They placed the term “mining” first even though the majority of the deforestation in Brazil is due to agriculture.
BuzzFeed News: “There’s no way to get the gold out without destroying the forest. The more acres you cut down, the more gold you get. It’s directly proportional,” said Miles Silman, cofounder of Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA). According to a 2018 CINCIA study, artisanal mining, according to the post, has uprooted nearly 250,000 acres of rainforest in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The problems with artisanal miners in Peru are well-documented and completely off-point when it comes to wildfires in Brazil.
The reporting had distinct political bias and the media has directed most of its ire toward Brazil’s populist conservative President Jair Bolsonaro. Brazil is a democratic society and, after enduring more than a decade of corruption with the Workers’ Party, Brazilians voted for a change: Bolsonaro. He supports sensible mining and has been cautious when it comes to protection policies related to the Amazon. So, it’s not much of a surprise that journalists are linking him to the fires to cast him as an enemy of the environment. No one criticized Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales for fires that have burned thousands of hectares of forests.
Several mainstream media outlets have documented the fact that the early reports made selective use of wildfire data. There has been an increase in Amazon fires this year. It is the highest level since 2010, when a major drought caused a spike in fires. Readers might recall that 2010 was the final year of left-wing President Lula da Silva’s eight years in office. The media never reported on wildfires back then.
Roughly 18% of the original forest has been cleared. Rates of deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s were as much as four times higher than in recent years. In the mid-1990s, one of E&MJ’s senior editors commented that Brazilian farmers wreak more havoc on the environment than the entire South American mining industry.
The Amazon basin is a global resource that should be managed in a way that doesn’t clear-cut the rain forest. Many of these recent fires in Brazil were set intentionally to clear farmland in already deforested areas. Without conservation policies and clear property rights proving land ownership, however, farmers and miners have less incentive to manage and protect the land.