The record-breaking fires that are currently blazing in the Brazilian rainforest were likely set by farmers who want to clear the land for cattle ranching, environmental organizations say. The human-made fires happen every year in specific areas, and are a common last stage of the deforestation process in the Amazon region. “The fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation,” Ane Alencar, scientific director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, told environmental news outlet Mongabay. “They cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil.” This year, the number of active fires amounted to 74,155 between January 1 and August 20, a spike of 85 percent compared to the same period in 2018, according to data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research. This region contains the largest rainforest in the world, which produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and is often called “the planet’s lungs.” Cattle ranching is responsible for as much as 80 percent of the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon, and a significant portion of the global beef supply originates on land that was once rainforest. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro pledged to further develop the region for farming and mining—intentionally displacing indigenous people—when he took office in January, despite warnings by environmentalists about the impact of deforestation. In response, Bolsonaro is blaming environmentalists for starting the fires in a bid to embarrass the government.

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