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Dec. 8, 2022

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Brazil sees worst forest fires in years; candidates are silent

434 square miles of Amazon rainforest lost in September

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FILE - Towels with images of Brazilian presidential candidates, President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, are for sale by a street vendor, hanging from a makeshift clothesline in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Despite the smoke clogging the air of entire Amazon cities, state elections have largely ignored environmental issues.
FILE - Towels with images of Brazilian presidential candidates, President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, are for sale by a street vendor, hanging from a makeshift clothesline in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Despite the smoke clogging the air of entire Amazon cities, state elections have largely ignored environmental issues. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File) (edmar barros/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

RIO DE JANEIRO — September has come and gone, marking another painful milestone for the world’s largest rainforest. It was the worst month for fire in the Amazon in over a decade.

Satellites detected over 42,000 fires in 30 days, according to Brazil’s national space institute. It was the first time since 2010 that fires in the Amazon topped 40,000 in a single month.

This September was two and a half times worse than last. Coming at the peak of the dry season, it’s usually the worst month for both fire and deforestation.

The official data for forest loss goes only through Sept. 23 so far, yet is already 14 percent more devastating than September 2021. In just those three weeks, the Amazon lost 434 square miles of rainforest, an area larger than New York City.

The surge in fire occurs amid a polarizing presidential campaign. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a second four-year term against leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled Brazil between 2003 and 2010 and leads in the polls. The first round of the election is today.

Despite the smoke clogging the air of entire Amazon cities, state elections have largely ignored environmental issues. Along with the president, Brazilians will elect governors and state and national parliaments.

In Para state, worst for both deforestation and fire, the subject of deforestation was barely touched on during a TV debate among gubernatorial candidates held Tuesday by the Globo network.

Over an hour and a half, only one candidate mentioned the steep increase in deforestation. Globo, Brazil’s leading television network, did not even select it as one of eight debate topics.

Protecting the forest is not a high priority for the population, after years of pandemic and a deteriorating economy, said Paulo Barreto, a researcher with the nonprofit Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “But the fact that journalists don’t ask is an even bigger problem.”

Deforestation can lead to more poverty, he said. “On the other hand, there are growing economic opportunities related to conservation.”

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