There were 89,178 fires in the Amazon rainforest in 2019 — a 30% increase from the year before, according to the space research agency INPE.
More fires burned in the Amazon in 2019 than at any point in the past decade, Reuters reported.
The massive jump reflects some of the policy aims of the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro came into office vowing to strip Indigenous people of their land rights, open the Amazon up to mining and agricultural interests, and crack down on environmental groups, according to the Intercept.
Since then, deforestation has surged.
The fires of 2019, in particular, sparked international consternation. Leaders around the world urged the Brazilian government to contain the fires, celebrities rallied around the cause, and millions of dollars were raised for conservation groups.
Scientists have warned that the Amazon could enter a “death spiral” if too many trees are lost, causing the rainforest’s dynamics of self regulation to destabilize — triggering an irreversible decline.
A death spiral could lead to, among other things, extreme drought in surrounding areas.
Prior to last year, forest fires had been declining amid a years-long effort to reduce deforestation.
During this period, deforestation still greatly outpaced reforestation efforts. In fact, the Amazon lost 8.4 million acres of forest over the past decade, which is like losing landmass the combined size of Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, according to CNN.
Since humans began clearing the forest for land in the early 1900s, the Amazon has lost 20% of its mass.
The Amazon rainforest is home to a staggering array of wildlife — an estimated 10% of all biodiversity. It’s also a massive carbon sink, a major source of fresh water and food, and it helps to regulate the global climate.
Losing the Amazon rainforest would have a devastating effect on the global environment. But unless actions are taken to minimize deforestation and its negative impacts, that may be the rainforest’s ultimate fate.