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As New Fires Rage in Amazon, Global Calls for Urgent Action to Avert 'Astronomical' Impacts to 'Life on Earth'

Pope Francis urges protection of "that lung of forests" and French President Macron says G7 nations pledged help at summit

Aerial view showing smoke billowing from a patch of forest being cleared with fire in the surroundings of Boca do Acre, a city in Amazonas State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019.

Aerial view showing smoke billowing from a patch of forest being cleared with fire in the surroundings of Boca do Acre, a city in Amazonas State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019. Brazil on August 25 deployed two Hercules C-130 aircraft to douse fires devouring parts of the Amazon rainforest. The latest official figures show 79,513 forest fires have been recorded in the country this year, the highest number of any year since 2013. More than half of those are in the massive Amazon basin. Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the problem this year. (Photo: Lula Sampaio/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil's army on Sunday deployed aircraft to battle the raging fires in the Amazon as global concern and outrage over the potential consequences—and the destructive causes—of the disaster grow.

The military operations involving C-130 aircraft to put out fires came after Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro triggered global protests over his government's policies and failure to take swift action to combat the flames.

Official data released Saturday backs up the call for swift action. Agence France-Presse reported, "Some 1,130 new fires were ignited between Friday and Saturday, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE)." So far this year, the country has witnessed 79,513 fires, more than half of which occurred in the Amazon, according to the agency. That marks an 82 percent increase from 2018.

The fires were discussed by global leaders meeting in Biarritz, France for the G7 summit. French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, "We are all agreed on helping those countries which have been hit by the fires as fast as possible."

"Our teams are making contact with all the Amazon countries so we can finalize some very concrete commitments involving technical resources and funding," said Macron.

The French leader and Bolsonaro last week sparred on Twitter over the fires. "Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest—the lungs which produces 20 percent of our planet's oxygen—is on fire," tweeted Macron. Bolsonaro then accused Macron of using the fires "for personal political gains" and said the French president had a "sensationalist tone." 

Pope Francis on Sunday added his voice to the chorus of concern.

"We are all worried about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon," he said, speaking to the public in St Peter's Square. "That lung of forests," the pontiff added, "is vital for our planet."

Bolsonaro—who previously asserted there weren't resources to battle the fires—has baselessly suggested the fires could have been started by NGOs upset with his policies. But environmental campaigners say his policies promoting deforestation and other manifestations of Amazon exploitation are the main culprits.

As NBC reported Sunday

In less than a year, Bolsonaro has dismantled the country's agencies tasked with protecting the environment and indigenous peoples. Consequently, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has surged so much scientists warn the Amazon could begin transforming into a savannah incapable of serving any longer as one of the world's greatest carbon sinks responsible for helping stabilize the global climate. In July, around 860 square miles of rainforest were destroyed according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, resulting in a total loss of forest coverage bigger than the size of Los Angeles and New York City combined.

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Bolsonaro's administration has attempted to brush off such data, saying that the rate is not that high and, according to Reuters, has "distributed a 12-page circular to its foreign embassies, outlining data and statistics that diplomats are meant to cite to defend the government’s position on the crisis."

For Amnesty International, it's clear the Bolsonaro regime set the stage for the disaster.

"The responsibility to stop the wildfires that have been raging in the Amazon rainforest for several weeks now lies squarely with President Bolsonaro and his government," Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of the organization, said in a statemnt last week. "They must change their disastrous policy of opening up the rainforest for destruction, which is what has paved the way for this current crisis."

"We must stand together behind the Indigenous communities and leaders across the Amazon region—from Brazil to Ecuador and beyond," said Naidoo. "For them the Amazon is more than the lungs of the world, it is their home."

A recent video from Reuters amplified those communities' determination to protect their land.

In another video from Bloomberg, a representative of the Xingu peoples denounces environmentally destructive policies and says her community joins with the world "all standing together for the Amazon." She said, "We are going to resist for the forest, for our way of living [...] for the future of our children and grandchildren, for the planet."

As conservation group WWF said in a tweet Friday, further loss and destruction of this key carbon sink and biodiversity hotspot will affect us all.

"If this vital ecosystem continues to burn," said WWF, "the implications for life on Earth will be astronomical."

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