Flying over the worst-affected Amazonian country (last week), Rondonia, is exhausting, largely because of the sheer scale of the devastation. First, smoke obscured the constant stream of burning fields and fieldstocks; winding roads that turned into nothing but ashes. The orange stains of a tiny fire might still be raging below, but much of the land seemed to be a mausoleum of the forest that once graced it.
"This is not just a forest that burns," said Rosana Villar of Greenpeace. the CNN helped arrange his flight over the damaged and burning areas. "This is almost a cemetery, because all you can see is death."
The stark reality of destruction is beyond the world: like a vision summoned by an alarmist to warn what might come when the world is not concerned with its climate crisis now. Yet it is real and here and now and among us as we are being burned among us by the sunshine and smoldering land.
According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, 6,436 fires (INPE) are burning in Rondonia so far this year. NASA says the state has become one of the most deforested countries in the Amazon. In Brazil, 85% more fires are burning compared to the previous year ̵
But while the City of Porto Velho in the Amazon Tumbled Away A cloud of smoke spoiling its morning, and the forest we flew over was surrounded by the occasional humming of the C130 freighter and showed no sign of increased military presence.
The task is tremendous, almost insurmountable. In the areas where the smoke is most intense, the sun hardly creeps to shine from the river. I saw a bird in this nature reserve in three hours. Flames seem to be moving across the savannah in an unshakeable line, swallowing everything that forest remains on their way. There are the occasional buildings that are isolated in the newly created farmland around them. But no signs of human life, just cattle, caught in the swirling clouds and flames. They are often the cause of the fires: the onslaught on deforestation triggered by a growing global beef market. Cattle need soy in the fields or to graze on the grass and then become the beef that sells Brazil to China, now a trade war with the United States has changed the market.
The reason for the fires is controversial, but not so convincing from this height. Bolsonaro has said that they are part of the usual annual burning in this dry season. But his critics, many of them scientists, have found that the government's policy of promoting deforestation has increased both the forest clearance that fuels the fires and the less conscientious farmers' permission to burn.
One and a half football pitches per minute – the statistics on the damage to the forest mimicking the incomprehensible riddle of its vanished beauty – many analysts fear that is approaching a turning point.
The more forest is cleared, the less moisture is retained under its canopy, and the drier the land becomes. The drier the land becomes, the more susceptible it is to fire. The more fire, the less forest. A self-fulfilling cycle has already begun. The question is, when will it become irreversible?
Brazil is already studying the likelihood of permanent changes in its ecology. "The Amazon is fundamental to the water system across the continent," said Villar of Greenpeace. "So if we cut off the forest, we will not have any rain in the south of the country for some years."
It's hard to see any claims of future fate as alarming when looking through smoke at invisible skylines. Flames leap across the plains like lava and hear how uninterested taxi drivers tell you they've never seen it so bad. The apocalyptic future is here and impatient.