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International pressure mounts for Brazil to counter raging Amazon fires

Large sections of the Amazon rainforest are engulfed in flames, their smoke turning Sao Paolo’s midday skyline to total darkness. Brazilian forest fires are common at this time of year but have spiked since 2018. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has encouraged logging in the Amazon, admits the situation is “chaos” and is mustering the military for a response. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the day's other news, the government of Brazil moved to deploy troops tomorrow to rein in raging wildfires across the Amazon rainforest.

    William Brangham reports.

  • William Brangham:

    Large parts of the Amazon are being engulfed in record-breaking flames. More than 9,500 fires have broken out this past week.

    Today, under increasing pressure to address the crisis, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talked of sending in the army, saying — quote — "That's the plan."

    He had conceded yesterday that the situation is dire, and that his government lacked the resources to fight it.

  • Jair Bolsonaro (through translator):

    The Ministry of Justice can send 40 men to combat the fight, but do you understand that, 40 men? There are not enough resources. We are in chaos.

  • William Brangham:

    Forest fires are common in Brazil this time of year, but their numbers have skyrocketed to more than 75,000 this year. That's up 80 percent from 2018. And the smoke from them has turned Sao Paulo's midday skies into total darkness.

    Bolsonaro has said, with no evidence, that nonprofit groups started the fires to undermine him. But scientists point to three main causes all stemming from human activity that are driving this crisis, first, rampant deforestation.

    A staggering amount of the Amazon rainforest gets cut down intentionally. In June alone, an area half the size of Rhode Island was lost. Much of the logging is illegal, and driven by rising agriculture in the region. Fire is routinely used by farmers to clear out the brush for farming and grazing.

    Droughts have also played a key role. They occur naturally, but scientists say climate change is likely making them worse and more frequent.

    The right-wing populist president has relaxed environmental protections and prioritized opening up the rainforest for development. Bolsonaro has called the fires an internal matter for Brazilians to resolve, but international pressure for action is mounting.

    French President Emanuel Macron plans to highlight the crisis at this weekend's G7 summit with world leaders in France. And Macron threatened to withdraw French support for a trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil, if immediate action is not taken. Ireland quickly followed suit.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham

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