The Amazon rainforest is currently burning at an unprecedented rate, and members of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) community are concerned – and believe that the fires are not burning naturally.  

The fears surrounding deforestation have grown under Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, as evidenced by data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). Bolsonaro has frequently overlooked international concern regarding deforestation and climate change, with data collected by the INPE indicating that since he took power on Jan. 1, national deforestation has increased. 

According to Globalnews.ca, the INPE has recorded more than 74,000 fires so far this year. This represents an 84 percent increase on the same period in 2018.  

Global News also reported that, according to the World Wildlife Fund, more than a quarter of the Amazon will be absent of trees by 2030, assuming the current rate of deforestation continues. Brazil’s agricultural frontier has spread into the Amazon forest basin, facilitating more deforestation and wildfires. 

CNN.com reported that the number of fires in Brazilian Amazon states through August this year is 25 percent higher than the average number of fires in the same period from 2010-2018 (data collected by the Global Fire Emissions Database). The quantity of fires every year is correlated with the area of deforestation and the severity of the drought during the dry season. 

Michael Palace, an associate professor of Earth Sciences at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), teaches geospatial science, remote sensing, environmental science and tropical ecology.  

“Amazonian forests do not naturally burn. The fires are the result of humans,” Palace, a principal investigator with the Earth Systems Research Center (ESRC), said. “Clearing land usually for pasture and soybean plantation is done by burning. This is exacerbated by droughts.  Brazil was doing an excellent job monitoring and reducing deforestation. The new Brazilian administration has generated issues with opening up indigenous lands for selective logging and encroachment.” 

Palace noted that, while the communities surrounding UNH are unlikely to be impacted directly “in the immediate time frame,” the “loss of these forests put greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and will alter the global hydrological cycling. This will be impacting climate change globally.” 

In Durham, both the Amazon fires and the overall carbon footprint and global warming are on the minds of students and faculty. 

“The new president in Brazil appears to be facilitating deforestation,” senior economics major Parker Armstrong said.  

“Students and professors frequently discuss the Amazon fires and related global issues in class,” junior ecology and sustainability major Parker Philbrick said. “Deforestation to facilitate animal agriculture is a concern, as is the displacement of indigenous peoples in the Amazon.” 

UNH Student Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse explained the role that student leadership has had in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Last March, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution to urge President [James W.] Dean to reaffirm the university’s commitment to climate leadership both operationally and as an institution of higher education,” LaCourse, a senior economics and political science dual major, said. “The Graduate Student Senate and Faculty Senate also passed similar motions in support of our initiative.”  

Palace also addressed ways that people worldwide can help with the situation.  

“Minimizing your carbon footprint is a start,” he said. “There are plenty of avenues online to calculate this.  Simple decisions of where you live, what transportation you use, how far do you travel for work, where do you vacation can have a big impact on the environment.”