Right now, if you search for news about the massive fires burning in the Amazon rainforest, you might mostly find stories about the Amazon Fire line of tablets and streaming devices.
The search results come at a critical time for the rainforest. Smoke from the fires, which as of this afternoon cover huge swaths of the Amazon basin, completely blotted out the midday sun in Sao Paulo this week, darkening the city at 2:00pm on Monday (Aug. 19). According to Brazil’s state satellite agency, the number of fires in the Amazon so far this year is up 85% compared to the same period last year. About half of this year’s blazes have occurred in the last 20 days.
Meanwhile, many of the headlines in Google News highlight “midweek deals” on older models of Amazon’s Fire tablet and reviews of the latest version of the device. Searches for both “amazon fire” and “fire in the amazon” on Aug. 21 turned up news stories about the products rather than the fires; in one search, news stories about the ongoing Amazonian fires didn’t appear until the second page of Google News results. (Update: By Aug. 22, the first page of Google News results for “fire in the amazon” displayed only stories about the ongoing fires.)
Amazon Watch, one prominent NGO dedicated to advancing the rights of indigenous people living in the Amazon basin, has called on Jeff Bezos and his company to direct some efforts towards protecting its namesake ecosystem in the past. (Bezos installed a model “rainforest” in Amazon’s Seattle headquarters last year.)
The rainforest has suffered ongoing deforestation over the last 50 years, with about one-fifth of the ecosystem cut and burned to make way for logging, ranching, or mining. The fires burning in the Amazon basin are likely set by people in an attempt to clear land for cattle ranching.
Ranchers, loggers, and miners have reportedly been emboldened by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s open disdain for conservation, and his support for using the rainforest for industry. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in more than 400 tribes live in the Amazon, and many already struggle to protect their land from illegal invasion. “We know what happens when the state does nothing,” Marcelino Da Silva, a member of the Apurinã tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, told the Intercept last month. “We know how quickly the forest can disappear.”
Deforestation has accelerated in recent years, reaching a peak last month at a rate of more than three football fields a minute, leading scientists to publicly worry that it could be approaching a tipping point; past a certain point of deforestation, the rainforest could be in jeopardy of degrading into a savannah.
Every section of the rainforest lost means losing natural carbon sinks; the greenhouse gas locked up by the forest’s biomass is instead released into the atmosphere, accelerating global climate change. Losing it also means losing the habitats for numerous threatened plant and animal species, many of which can only be found in the biodiverse Amazon.