U.S. Company Sends Supertanker to Fight ‘Unfathomable’ Amazon Rainforest Fires
The company’s CEO, Dan Reese, told The Denver Post that the plane — in addition to 14 crew members — arrived in the South American country early Thursday morning and began combating the fires on Friday.Reese told PEOPLE on Monday that he plans to bring a 15th crew member out, and that the plane and its crew plan to stay and help for at least two weeks, after which they can stay longer if the country needs.On Sunday, the SuperTanker successfully completed four missions, per a video shared on their Twitter.
Reese confirmed with PEOPLE on Monday that they have completed a total of 12 missions since arriving in Bolivia. However, he thinks it’s going to take an act of nature to end the devastation.
“In all honesty, I think it’s going to take rain,” he said. “We are going to do our part to help them get the fires they can, where they can get people, but as extensive as these fires are across this continent, it’s unfathomable to imagine these fires.”
Known as the world’s largest firefighting tanker, the B747-400 can dump up to 19,200 gallons of water per mission, according to the company’s site.
“When we were flying from 38,000 feet, it was just unbelievable [seeing] the scene, the numbers of fires and size from that altitude across the country,” Reese told PEOPLE. “There is a lot of fire. My guess is that we were looking at the fire in other countries as well.”
“Our missions have been down on the Paraguay-Brazilian border, so it’s kind of across the country and those distances from the airport,” he added. “We are working out of the airbase [and working] from 130 miles to 360 miles.”
Morales shared a video of the SuperTanker during a mission on Saturday, thanking everyone who has helped in the efforts to combat the fires.
“The Supertanker and our helicopters work to put out the fire,” he wrote. “I appreciate the efforts of so many compatriots, men and women, who work on this hard task. We face this battle against the fire together.”
The Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest, spans eight countries, including Bolivia, with nearly 60 percent of the forest in Brazil, according to Reuters. It has been engulfed in flames for a record number of weeks.
The onslaught of fire is threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen in a disaster that activists say could drive further climate change. Often referred to as “the planet’s lungs,” the Amazon produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change.
According to CNN and Reuters, both citing Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), there have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year (with more than half in its Amazon region), and satellite images have spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the county — mostly in the Amazon basin — since Thursday.
Several environmentalists have said cattle ranchers and farmers intentionally set the fires to clear the land for their own use.
“These forests are not burned by accident — they are made to clear land for cattle grazing and soy production,” Daniel Brindis, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace, previously told PEOPLE. “The companies who profit off of these commodities are based in the U.S. We encourage consumers to demand companies not destroy the forests. There is enough land out there.”
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INPE researchers have made similar statements.
“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said, according to Reuters. “The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
Why is the Amazon rainforest on fire?
The Amazon is burning at an alarming rate as tens of thousands of fires lay waste to the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
There have been more than 74,000 wildfires across Brazil this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018, and about 40,000 of them are burning in the Amazon, according to the country’s National Institute of Space Research.
The Amazon is often called „the lungs of the world,” absorbing greenhouse gases that would otherwise harm the planet. It also is home to a number of indigenous people who rely on the forest’s resources.
Here’s why it’s on fire and why it has become such a big problem.
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Why is the Amazon on fire?
People who want to clear land in the Amazon for business prospects are cutting down portions of the forest, leaving them out to dry and setting them on fire. With the trees out of the way, they have room to grow crops or raise cattle.
This practice is illegal but is not being monitored by Brazil’s government, said Nigel Sizer, chief program officer of Rainforest Alliance. Not only is the government turning the other way, President Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging the practice, Sizer said.
„With confidence, we can say that a lot of that is illegal and is happening because the government has given the nod to illegal clearing and burning across the Amazon,” Sizer said. „The president has even encouraged the invasion of indigenous territories and areas that the previous administrations have really been working hard to protect.”
Bolsonaro has blamed environmental nonprofits for acting as obstacles in his mission to further develop Brazil’s economy. His administration has eased protections of areas such as the Amazon, making way for people to damage the rainforest.
In response to the staggering increase in wildfires this year, Bolsonaro suggested nongovernmental organizations could be starting them to make his administration look bad. He took office Jan. 1 of this year.
„Maybe – I am not affirming it – these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters.
When asked to provide evidence, he gave none.
„There is a war going on in the world against Brazil, an information war,” Bolsonaro said.
Sizer said previous Brazilian administrations have been environmentally conscious and decreased the rate of deforestation. With this president, though, he said he is worried about what’s to come.
„It takes a while for people to react and respond, and what we’re seeing now is the first wave of that,” Sizer said. „I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers get a lot of worse if the government does not change course.”
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Are fires in the Amazon normal?
The Amazon holds a lot of moisture – massive fires aren’t a natural occurrence there. Sizer said that if it’s a dry season and you set a fire in the undergrowth it may spread a little, but it peters out quickly. But once you start clearing forest and let the trees dry, fires can cause more damage, he said.
„The forest shifts from being a fire-resistant ecosystem to a fire-prone ecosystem,” Sizer said.
The trees, plants and animals in the Amazon are not adaptive to fire, and so they are easily killed. That is different from forests in North America, which have adapted to wildfires and can survive them, Sizer said.
Sizer said putting out wildfires in the Amazon is „basically impossible.” They’ll run their course until they run out of chopped-down trees to burn. The best way to stop a crisis like this is for the government to strictly protect the land, said Adrian Forsyth, co-founder of Amazon Conservation Association.
„If you had an enlightened president in Brazil, they would put a stop to illegal deforestation in Brazil, just in the way that they prevent robbery and murder,” Forsyth said.
How will the Amazon’s fires affect people?
„The Amazon is a rain factory,” Forsyth said, describing the Amazon’s role in people’s lives.
Forsyth said the Amazon generates rain that helps crops grow across the Americas, which affects basic food supplies. Additionally, without the Amazon’s carbon absorption, damage to the climate becomes increasingly unavoidable, Forsyth said.
„The Amazon is the biggest storer of tropical carbon in the world, and if that goes up into the sky it’s going to be impossible to meet the climate goals that we’re trying to establish,” Forsyth said.
Moira Birss, finance campaign director of nonprofit Amazon Watch, said the indigenous people and others who live in or near the forest face the most immediate harm.
„The fires specifically for folks who are living in that are extremely harmful, the air they’re breathing, the ability to live their daily lives, and in some cases, it’s affecting people’s land,” Birss said.
Birss said many people have reached out to Amazon Watch asking about ways they can help. Ultimately, she said, it’s the government’s responsibility to put an end to illegal fire setting. Sizer said one way people can help, though, is by donating to Brazilian environmental groups.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amazon fire: Why is the world’s largest rain forest burning?
Explainer: Why are the Amazon fires sparking a crisis for Brazil – and the world?
By Jake Spring
BRASILIA (Reuters) – A record number of fires ravaging the Amazon has drawn international outrage because of the rainforest’s importance to the global environment and prompted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to dispatch the military to assist in firefighting.
Here is what you need to know about the disaster.
WHY DOES THE AMAZON MATTER?
The Amazon – 60% of which is in Brazil – is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It is considered a biodiversity hot spot, with many unique species of plants and animals.
The dense jungle absorbs a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas believed to be the biggest factor in climate change, so scientists say that preserving the Amazon is vital to fighting global warming.
HOW BAD ARE THE FIRES?
Forest fires in all of Brazil have hit the highest level since at least 2013 and are up 84% this year to August 23, compared to the same period a year ago, according to Brazil space research agency INPE. There have been 78,383 fires so far this year, with roughly half of those in August alone.
Eight out of nine Amazon states have seen an increase, with the largest state of Amazonas seeing a 146% rise. Residents on the ground in the states of Rondonia and Amazonas states said while there are fires every year they have never seen it this bad, with clouds of smoke blanketing the region.
WHAT CAUSED THE FIRES?
Fires in the Amazon are often set on purpose to clear land. After loggers extract wood, speculators burn the remaining vegetation to clear it in hopes of selling the land to farmers and ranchers. The Amazon is several months into its dry season during which these fires can more easily spread out of control.
Environmentalists say that those setting the fires have been emboldened because they hear Bolsonaro calling for more development of the Amazon and think they will not be punished.
Deforestation has risen 67% year-on-year in the first seven months of 2019 and more than tripled in July alone. Environmentalists believe those deforesting are the same people starting the fires.
HOW HAS BRAZIL’S GOVERNMENT REACTED?
Bolsonaro initially suggested that the fires were normal, then said that non-government organizations themselves were setting the fires to hurt his government. He did not present any evidence and later backed off from that claim.
Bolsonaro has said that the country does not have the resources to fight the fires in an area as large as the Amazon, while also warning other countries not to interfere, saying that foreign money was aimed at undermining Brazil’s sovereignty.
The government has now decided to mobilize the military to fight the fires and several Amazon states have subsequently requested support. It remains unclear exactly how the armed forces will be deployed and how effective they will be.
WHAT DO WORLD LEADERS SAY?
French President Emmanuel Macron has called the fires an international emergency and „ecocide,” and criticized Brazil’s government for not doing more to protect the rainforest.
Macron’s office said in a statement that it would oppose eventual approval of the free trade deal between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, because Bolsonaro lied about environmental concerns at June’s G20 summit when it was first agreed to.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said they are concerned about destruction of the Amazon but said that blocking the trade deal was not the right response.
On Sunday, Macron said the leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Canada were finalizing a possible deal at their annual summit on „technical and financial help” for the countries affected by the fires, including Brazil.
President Donald Trump offered Bolsonaro U.S. assistance in a phone call, but Brazilian officials subsequently said they were not working with the United States to combat the fires.
HOW HAS THE PUBLIC REACTED?
Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest government inaction on the fires in more than a dozen cities, shutting down major roads in Brasilia and Sao Paulo. Demonstrations have been held outside of Brazilian embassies in Paris and London.
On social media, #PrayForAmazonas and similar hashtags have been trending on Twitter. Users posting in support of Bolsonaro have also pushed a hashtag translating as „TheAmazonWithoutNGOs” into the trending topics on the platform.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?
Scientists fear that continued destruction of the Amazon could push it toward a tipping point, after which the region would enter a self-sustained cycle of forest dieback as it converts from rainforest into savannah.
Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre believes 15-17% of the entire Amazon has already been destroyed. At first, researchers thought the tipping point would be 40% destruction. But that has changed with global warming raising temperatures in the Amazon and the increasing number of fires. Nobre now says that the tipping point is more likely at between 20-25%.
If the tipping point is triggered, the dieback will take 30 to 50 years, in which time 200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere, Nobre said, making it far harder for the world to keep temperature rises below 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – the goal to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
Washington (AFP) – Sidney Rittenberg, a former American advisor to Mao Tse-tung who spent long spells in prison as he fell in and out of favor with China’s communist leaders, has died in the state of Arizona, the New York Times reported. He was 98.
The rebellious son of a prominent family from Charleston, South Carolina, Rittenberg arrived in China as a US army linguist at the end of World War II, and was soon swept up in the country’s epochal civil war and communist revolution.
Fluent in Mandarin, he became a member of the Chinese communist party in 1946 after being discharged from the US Army.
Hiking 46 days to reach Mao’s mountain redoubt, he served as an interpreter and traveled with the red army.
Admitted into Chairman Mao’s inner circle, he also cultivated relations with Zhou Enlai, his number two, and other top leaders.
Known in China by the name Li Dunbai, Rittenberg witnessed many of the events of the Chinese revolution, which culminated in 1949 with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China.
His loyalty and commitment was rewarded with high profile positions — often the only visible foreigner in the regime.
But he also was twice cast out of favor, the first time soon after the communists came to power, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin falsely accused him of being an American agent.
Rittenberg spent six years in solitary confinement, but after his release in 1955 he was given a top position in China’s Broadcast Administration, and later became a director of Radio Beijing, sometimes broadcasting anti-American propaganda himself.
His commitment to the communist cause remained unshaken, even during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), a drive to collectivize agriculture that led to 20 to 50 million deaths to famine.
Rittenberg was an early champion of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), joining the Red Guard whose brutal campaign against bourgeois tendencies has been blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
But in 1968, he was again arrested, this time on orders of Mao’s wife, Jiang Quing, and spent the next decade behind bars. His wife, Wang Yulin, was sent to a work camp.
Freed in 1977, he returned to the United States in 1979 with his family, where he drew on a wealth of connections in China to advise the likes of Bill Gates, Michael Dell and other US businesses looking to enter the Chinese market.