Climate communications: Social media has gone insane over fires in the Amazon area of Brazil, with most posts being wrong

Climate communications: Social media has gone insane over fires in the Amazon area of Brazil, with most posts being wrong

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Social media has gone insane about fires in the Amazon region of Brazil (60% of the Amazon is in Brazil, 40% outside).

A post shared into my social media few days ago with comments about how the Amazon is being destroyed by record breaking wildfire and (cue conspiracy theory) the news media is not even covering the story!

This looks a lot like an IRA (Russian) inspired bot twitter storm to create social havoc – the photo is not even from 2019:

Social media sourcing of nonsense then turns into Youtube videos:

This next item shows how easy it is to fool 16 year old children into a state of fear, turning them into activists – based entirely on false social media memes and pseudo-news reports:

Clearly, there has been media coverage. The burning forest photo is from years ago, not 2019. The fires in Brazil have nothing to do with billionaires. The amount burning now, per NASA, is average.

Yet this social media meme has now turned into an international incident.

And lo, we are running out of oxygen too! Take a look at these, both of which have been shared hundreds of thousands of times – yet are completely wrong:

The first photo, above, is of a different fire, taken in 2013, and is not even in the Amazon rain forest. This item was posted by an Italian pro soccer player. The second photo, above, was taken by a photographer who died in 2003, and was posted by the President of France.

Nearly all social media posts are wrong – typically misquoting facts, using fire photos taken years ago, and falsely alluding to conspiracy theories (such as no media coverage) with silly memes that the fires are so bad, they are visible from space (this is very common).

Propagandists have distorted this further by linking the fires to climate change (nearly all of the fires were started by farmers, clearing land, some – possibly many – of which are in previously cleared land, and there is no drought in 2017-2019). Pseudo news service CNN runs with histrionics (also known as yellow journalism) linking the fires to climate change (which is not at all true). (The media no longer uses the term “climate change” – now they use “climate crisis” or “climate emergency” – this will be another post here soon!)

Other social media posts linked the fires to the consumption of meat. Brazil produces much beef, and 60% of cleared forecast, as of 2011, was estimated to be used for cattle, but the land is also used to grow sugar cane for producing ethanol fuel and palm-oil. Much of the area that is burning is not forest but previously cleared land.

Per NASA, the fire situation in the Amazon is average and typical for this time of the year (see below).

Here is what NASA says:


The BBC reports that fires have decreased dramatically – this year – compared to 2003-2010. Beginning in 2011, the area burned dropped dramatically and continued at mostly much lower levels until 2019. 2018 was the lowest its been since 2003 when they started measuring the Amazon fires.

Fires are typically viewed as bad and it may be bad that the Amazon experiences many fires, every year, and that forest is cleared by farmers and ranchers by burning. But the social media descriptions – and breathless media reports – that its record breaking are distorting the truth as at this time.

Reports of “record breaking” using an index that only goes to 2013 is a form of cherry picking propaganda. Comparing 2018 (the lowest year since 2003) to 2019, the increase is made to look unusual.

By leaving out this critical context, a hell of lot of people and pseudo news media are looking like idiots for promulgating a false panic.

International politicians have begun calling for action based upon these false reports.

Social media is a bonfire of idiocy and will do more harm to the world than fires in Brazil.

Update October 2, 2019

The number of fires fell by 35% in September versus August, and September is down 20% versus September 2018. For the year, January – September, the number of fires burned remains 43% above the prior year – but from the chart above, 2018 was the lowest number of fires since 2003. There has not been a report on the total acreage burned.

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