Amazon is in flames, but Brazil's past can show path forward

Just over 16 years ago, on a sweltering day along the south-eastern fringe of the Amazon forest, we sat down to catch our breath on a half-burnt log. Plumes of smoke on the horizon wafted to the sky, and the sound of chainsaws whirred in the distance. We couldn't have known that we were sitting in a time and place that was rapidly approaching peak deforestation this century in the Amazon. It was July 2003 in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

That moment comes to mind this week, with reports that Brazil's Amazon has experienced a record number of fires this year - the result of both drier conditions and intentional burning to clear the forest. As smoke from deforestation fires blankets the Amazon once more, those in power have responded by attacking government scientists and attempting to bury facts that the satellite record makes clear. But lessons from Brazil's own past highlight the importance of this data - and could show the path forward.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'Amazon is in flames, but Brazil's past can show path forward'. Print Edition | Subscribe