Amazon Burning? – well maybe not so much

Statistics indicate this is an average year for wildfires, so why the above-average hysteria?

Catte Black

One of many misattributed photos doing the rounds. This is from another fire entirely.

Today on Twitter OffG stepped into the current panic-inferno and thick forest of screaming hashtags that is the “Amazon Forest Fire Crisis.” The results were thought-provoking.

The mainstream media message is very simple. There are “record” numbers of forest fires currently in the Amazon basin. It’s mostly Bolsonaro’s fault. The G7 – soon to be assembling – needs to act. (Business Insider and The Guardian are also both very keen we send money to some rainforest charities)

Now, I’m not a fan of Bolsonaro personally, and that goes for all of us at OffG. I’m equally very supportive of preserving the rain forests and wild spaces of the earth. So, the broad sweep of the message is something I’m inclined to be sympathetic toward.

But something isn’t sitting right. This is the mainstream media in full and united chorus, flooding the news space with this one single message. This means there’s a fairly major agenda, and it’s unlikely to be saving the Amazon for all the little future babies.

So, we thought we’d take a deeper look and tweeted this:

Three people immediately unfollowed us. A couple of others responded. Here’s one:

We replied to RP with the following:

RP’s hostility only increased, and they retweeted the same basic claim again, apparently in the belief it was new and revelatory and an answer to our questions:

In fairness, we also got some positive response, most notably from the always rational Robin Monotti Graziadei. We recommend taking time to read the whole thread.

Someone else then sent us a link to this article at Science20.com

In this article you can find a quote from the Earth Observatory , which up until August 22 read as follows:

As of August 16, 2019, satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years. Though activity has been above average in Amazonas and to a lesser extent in Rondônia, it has been below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to the Global Fire Emissions Database”

(SIDEBAR: this text was changed on Aug 22 and now reads, significantly “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years.”, although the data on which this conclusion is based has not apparently changed. You can check the archived version for proof of the edit.)

On the same site (science20.com) you can also find this graph of “cumulative monthly fire data” for the Amazon basin (the original is at from GlobalFireData.org):

This clearly indicates that the current amount of burning in the Amazon basin in 2019 (the green line) is, as NASA originally said,somewhat below the average, and well below the previous extremes for the region.

This will be why, when you look close, the media articles are artfully talking about the number of fires, rather than the area of burning. There may well be more fires (or maybe that’s just been made up like so much else), but that’s a statistic without meaning if the total area covered is actually less than a fifteen-year average.

Now, we’re not about to take NASA as a final authority on this any more than any other single source. But given the amount of emphasis being put by the screaming media on how “unprecedented” the current burning is, and how deceptive this might turn out to be, it seemed important to us that this data was at least discussed. So we tweeted a ref to it.

This was one response:

Here is another. Visit our timeline for more.

It turns out the messy truth behind the blaring headlines is – yes, the Amazon is burning but not as much as in many recent times, and while Bolsonaro is not a nice man accusing him of burning the world down is probably a bit premature.

To be fair a few people shared or retweeted this information. But they were very few. Most simply ignored it, intent, like Greenwald and Media Lens, Naomi Klein et al in joining chorus with the shrieking mainstream doom-sirens.

Make a note of that #GreenNewDeal hashtag. We’ll be seeing a lot of that in the next week or so.

Before the inevitable “oh so you don’t care if all the possums DIE” type comments BTL, let’s make it ultra-clear, this isn’t about disparaging environmentalism or claiming it’s fine for the Amazon to burn (though actually it is, up to a point, and is an important part of the forest’s life cycle).

It’s about the fact so many of us – even many who think of themselves as sophisticated analysts – are still as much in the grip of authoritarian story-telling as our ancestors were when they heard tales of heaven and hell and believed them.

Thank goodness for a few lone voices of sanity, like Robin again:

Hmmm…is that Green New Deal the reason why this apparently fairly average year of burning has been morphed by the power of lies into the latest doomsday meme? Why exactly would so many corporate news outlets be so keen to sell us that?

Oh who cares, right? It’s hard. Memes are easy. Did you know Amazon produces 20% of our Oxygen? No, because it doesn’t. But that’s not stopping everyone repeating it.

A few cyberwarfare-generated hashtags, a few (sometimes misattributed) images and there is a mass belief-system unfolding before our eyes. Uncritical, rabid, rancid with fear, demanding solutions.

Just in time for the G7 summit – where I’m sure a Green New Deal “solution” will emerge right on cue, to universal cheers and a few more hashtags handed down to the proles to be spread about in the name of “standing up to the 1%”.

We have to do better, guys, or it’s over. We’re done.


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