Wildfires are raging at a "record rate" in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and it's threatening the earth's oxygen and wildlife. Scientists are now warning it could lead to a further devastating blow to the fight against climate change.
The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has said that the fires are burning at the "highest rate" ever since they began tracking them in 2013.
The space research center also reported that its satellite data showed an 84 percent increase in fires compared to the same period last year. There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, with more than half in the Amazon region.
INPE's satellite has also spotted 9,507 new fires in the country.
Amazon rainforest is often called the "planet's lungs" because it produces over 20 percent of the total oxygen in the earth's atmosphere. So, it's considered vital in minimizing and slowing down global warming effects.
As the largest rainforest globally, it's home to about three million animals and plants and approximately one million indigenous people.
CNN reported that the smoke impact could be felt in São Paulo, which is more than 1,700 miles away from the Amazon rainforest.
Journalist Shannon Sims tweeted on Monday:
"Just a little alert to the world: the sky randomly turned dark today in São Paulo, and meteorologists believe it's smoke from the fires burning *thousands* of kilometers away, in Rondônia or Paraguay."
"Imagine how much has to be burning to create that much smoke(!). SOS."
Activists Are Blaming Brazil's President For The Fires
The unprecedented surge in wildfire comes after Brazil's far-right president, Jail Bolsonaro, took office in January this year. Bolsonaro vowed to develop Amazonian regions for mining and farming, ignoring international concerns over an increase in deforestation.
A few weeks ago, the INPE director was fired after an argument with the president. The director had defended satellite findings that showed deforestation was 88 percent higher in June, compared to the same period last year. Bolsonaro argued the data were pure "lies."
He even criticized INPE's deforestation warnings as harmful for trade negotiations, Agencia Brasil news agency reported.
In his defense, Bolsonaro said on Wednesday that the recent fires in the Amazon rainforest might have been caused by nongovernmental organizations to draw international criticism to his government.
"Crime exists, and we need to make sure that this type of crime does not increase. We took money away from the NGOs."
"They are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding. So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing."
Environmental advocates, including World Wildlife Fund, warns that if the Amazon fires reach "a point of no return," the forest could become a dry savannah and uninhabitable for wildlife.
The "planet's lungs" could also begin emitting carbon, which's "the major driver for global climate change."