Flying above the worst condition of the Amazon (in the last week), Rondonia, is exhausting, mainly because of the endless scale of devastation. At first the smoke masked a steady stream of burnt fields and packs; from meandering roads that weave in nothing but ashes. Below, orange spots of tiny fire can still rage, but much of the land looks like a mausoleum of the forest that once decorated it.
"It's not just a burning forest," says Greenpeace's Rosana Villar, who helped CNN organize its flight over damaged and burning areas. "It's almost a cemetery. Because all you can see is death."
The old reality of destruction is beyond: as a vision created by an alarmist to warn what might happen if the world does not deal with its climate crisis now. Yet it is true, both here and now, and beneath us, as we are burned by the sun from above and the smoldering earth below.
Rondonia has 6 366 fires burning so far this year, according to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). NASA says the state has become one of the most deforested states in the Amazon. Brazil has 85% more fires burned than this time last year ̵
Yet, as the Amazon city of Porto Velho spins from a cloud of smoke glowing in the morning, and from the occasional C130 cargo plane, buzzing overhead, the forest around it we flew shows no trace of increased military presence in week.
The task is enormous, almost insurmountable. In areas where smoke is most intense, the sun barely creeps to shine from the river. I saw a bird in this natural sanctuary for three hours. The flames seem to move in a steady line across the savannah, absorbing all that remains in their path. There are random buildings there, isolated in the newly created agricultural lands around them. But no sign of human life, but only cattle caught in whirlwinds and clouds. They are often the cause of fires: the rush to deforestation generated by the growing global beef market. Cattle need field-grown soybeans, or to graze on the grass and then become the beef that Brazil sells to China, now the trade war with the US has changed the market.
The cause of the fires is controversial, but not so convincing at this height. Bolsonaro said they were part of the usual annual burnout, in this dry season. But his critics, many of them scientists, noted that the government's policy of promoting deforestation has increased both ground clearance, which helps fierce fires, and given the far-less farmer's license to burn.
As land clearance rates reach one and a half football fields per minute – forest damage damage statistics mimic the incomprehensible mystery of its disappearing beauty – many analysts fear the tipping point is approaching.
The more the forest is cleared, the less moisture is retained under its canopy and the drier the land becomes. The drier the earth, the more susceptible it is to fire. The more fire, the less forest. The self-fulfilling cycle has already begun. The question is when it becomes irreversible.
Brazil is already coping with the likelihood of permanent changes in its ecology. "The Amazon is extremely fundamental to the water system of the entire continent," said Villar of Greenpeace. "So if we cut down the forest, there will be no rain in the southern part of the country for a few years.
It is difficult to see any claim to future demise as an alarmist, when you see the billows made invisible by smoke, the flames march on the plains like lava and hear the disinterested taxi drivers tell you that they have never seen it so badly. . The apocalyptic future is here and it is eager.