Christopher Dick is the director of the University of Michigan Herbarium and the Museum of Zoology, and he is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He has worked extensively in the Amazon and is an expert on tropical biodiversity, molecular ecology and plant evolution. He can discuss the environmental threats posed by the fires, as well as the political context of these events.
Just a couple of his thoughts:
-- The uptick in Amazon deforestation was entirely predictable based on Bolsonaro's election year rhetoric. He disparaged governmental protection of Amazon forests and indigenous peoples. His rhetoric and weakening of protections has emboldened miners, loggers, farmers and agribusinesses to flout environmental regulations.
-- Based on comments from my colleague, Dan Nepstad, heavy smoke comes from recently felled trees, not from uncut forest or pasture. The burning appears to be concentrated near soy and cattle farms, suggesting it is an expansion of existing agribusinesses.
-- The number of fires seen now, while definitely an increase since last year, is still less than 2010 levels. Pre-Bolsonaro Brazil deserves credit for reversing a decadal trend of increasing deforestation (a point made by Nepstad). Unfortunately those gains may be reversed by Brazil's present government.
-- Bolsonaro's playbook seems to come from Brazil's period of military governance in the 1960s-80s, which saw massacres of indigenous peoples, and deforestation for the sake of mega-development projects. There are still hundreds of indigenous peoples and languages in the Amazon basin, but these may be on an accelerated path to extinction thanks in part to the Bolsonaro government. It is tragic to witness the loss of indigenous knowledge about Amazon biological diversity acquired over thousands of years. Biological and culturally diverse forests are being replaced by soybean monocultures and cattle ranches.