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Firestorm of Fake News: “convenient” global hysteria about Amazon based on nothing but twitter pics

Global Fire Data shows this year is unequivocally a low fire season in the Amazon. But social media tears and outrage is running at 1000% driven by old photos and fake facts of the Amazon producing “20% of our planet’s oxygen”.

And the media experts reported the house was on fire in the lungs of the world, or something to that effect. They didn’t check the data, didn’t ask hard questions.

Based on hyperbolic twitter pics French leader Macron is threatening to cancel a foreign trade deal. The hype serves the purpose of attacking the right wing Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro in the lead up to a G7 summit this week…

Who’s feeding the twitter flames?


The photo he used? It’s a stock photo from Loren McIntyre, a photographer who died in 2003.   h/t  @Desesquerdizada

Funding cuts have created plenty of enemies

Many people have a reason to want Bolsonaro to look bad: In May Bolsonaro withdrew an offer to host a United Nations Latin America and Caribbean climate week. In the same week, the president fired self-confessed “militant environmentalist” Alfredo Sirkis, then-leader of The Brazil Forum for Climate Change. He also declared a 30 percent funding cut to maintenance costs of Brazil’s state-owned universities. Three weeks ago, Brazil’s INPE Space director was sacked. The INPE have been the source of the dire data used in some media stories. But Bolsonaro said the data was “not consistent with reality”, accused the head of the INPE of  “lies” and working for an NGO.

On the 13th August Germany announced plans to withdraw some €35 million due to the country’s lack of commitment to curbing deforestation . On August 15, Norway suspended donations too.

Thanks to Robert Walker at Science 2.0 for the statistics via Climate Depot.

The tally of fire counts here is up to data for August 22, 2019. Emissions are preliminary estimates based on fire counts, but the graph shows just how ordinary, normal and boring 2019 is expected to be when the final numbers are done.

Amazon fires, emissions, graph, record years.

Amazon fires, emissions, graph, record years. (Click to enlarge)  |  Source: globalfiredata.org

The actual fire counts for the whole Amazon Region as listed up to Aug 22nd:

Amazon Fires, Global Fire Count, 2019, graph

The monthly fire count total.  (Click to enlarge)  |  Source: globalfiredata.org


Spot the coincidence

The twitter firestorm is amplified just when the UN and big-government fans could use a negotiation weapon.

What is the outside world doing?

The UN secretary general and many world leaders and celebrities have expressed concern. The Amazon will be high on the agenda for G7 leaders at a summit in France this weekend. They are likely to make a strong statement condemning the recent increase in deforestation and urge Brazil to restore the Amazon protections that previously made the country a global environmental leader.

Where was the mainstream media?

Some journalists appear to be running off the twitter feed. But others seem to be carefully crafting their stories to highlight irrelevant, cherry-picked half truths. Notice how many tell us that this year in XXX (sub part of the Amazon) things are “twice as bad as last year” as if history starts in 2018, and as if the low fire statistics from the rest of Amazon don’t matter? Which news outlets are telling the whole truth and nothing but…

International leaders are transparently exploiting the hype:

“France and Ireland say they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to fight fires in the Amazon. French leader Emmanuel Macron said President Jair Bolsonaro had lied to him about his stance on climate change.” — BBC News, 6 hours ago.

Right at the end of one BBC news article the last line hints that the whole event is unwarranted. Why is this just an “add on”?

“US space agency Nasa, meanwhile, has said that overall fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average compared to the past 15 years.”

Remember when it comes to climate change, NASA are the definitive last word, but when it comes to Amazon fires, they’re just a casual addendum. “No comment”.

Jonathon Watts at The Guardian carefully words the panic. It’s almost as if he is aware of what is going on but not happy to make it too clear. With headlines like these, anyone would think the readers of The Guardian are 14 year old girls.

Does this happen every year?

Yes, but some areas have suffered far more than usual. In the worst-affected Brazilian state of Amazonas, the peak day this month was 700% higher than the average for the same date over the past 15 years. In other states, the amount of ash and other particulates in August has hit the highest level since 2010.

Is the entire forest ablaze?

No. Satellite monitoring experts say the images of an entire forest ablaze are exaggerated. A great deal of misinformation has been spread by social media, including the use of striking images from previous years’ burning seasons.

The Amazon makes 20% 6% of the worlds oxygen:

The hype is so over the top even Michael Mann is watering it down. This might be the first time Michael Mann is on the same side as skeptics?

Do we need to worry about oxygen?

No. Although some reports have claimed the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, it is not clear where this figure originated. The true figure is likely to be no more than 6%, according to climate scientists such as Michael Mann and Jonathan Foley. Even if it were accurate, the crops being planted in the cleared forest areas would also produce oxygen – quite likely at higher levels. So although the burning of the rainforest is worrying for many reasons, there is no need to worry about an oxygen shortage.

As it happens, most of the worlds oxygen comes from phytoplankton.

Right wing leaders might cause fires, left wing leaders go unnamed

Buried in a Guardian story is the admission that there are also huge fires in Bolivia which has a “leftwing populist president.” The Guardian writer uses that to claim this is not a political witchhunt, yet with no one hounding the Bolivian leader, this appears to be exactly what it is.

Is this the fault of the Brazilian president?

Jair Bolsonaro has made things a lot worse by weakening the environment agency, attacking conservation NGOs and promoting the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming and logging. The far-right leader has dismissed satellite data on deforestation and fired the head of the space agency. But it is not solely his fault. The agricultural lobby is powerful in Brazil and it has steadily eroded the protection system that was so successful from 2005-2014. Deforestation crept up in the past five years under the previous presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer. The rate has accelerated rapidly in the first eight months of Bolsonaro’s rule. But this is not just about him, politics or Brazil. There are also huge fires in Bolivia, which has a leftwing populist president.

Just asking the question “is it his fault” feeds the idea that it is. It’s almost like it was written by a green marketing company — speaking of — in the last paragraphs Watts uses the fake news and hyperbole from green NGO groups to…  urge political activism, and raise funds for the same hyperventilating NGO’s:

What can individuals do?

The most important actions are political and collective. Join a party or campaign group that makes the Amazon a priority. Through these groups, urge your elected representatives to block trade deals with countries that destroy their forests and to provide more support for countries that expand tree cover.

Apart from this, donate to organisations that support the forest, forest dwellers and biodiversity, including Instituto SocioambientalAmazon WatchWWFGreenpeaceImazonInternational Rivers and Friends of the Earth.

Meanwhile, the Australian ABC, paid 3 million dollars a day — copies preachy wisdom straight off The Conversation site. Thus does a PhD student’s analysis get fed through to our national news service: Amazon rainforest fire: Five things you need to know. None of those five things include the G7, the fake stats or the fake photos. No questions are asked or even allowed at the ABC. What job exactly is the ABC supposed to do?


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