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3 Reasons Not to Trust the Media on the Amazon Forest Fires

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably been bombarded with media photos of the Brazilian forest fires, alongside big titles like “72 thousands firs rage across Brazil, huge fires threaten the world’s oxygen supply!”

Nowhere will you see the words – “biggest fire in the Amazon”. Why? Because it isn’t.

Today, there are thousands fires continually burning all around the globe every single day, week and month. They always have.

See this map below, this is the first reason you shouldn’t trust the media on this.  The map compares September 2000 vs. 2018.  Not much of a difference is there? And we’re talking about almost 2 decades here. 

comparing earth fires 2000 vs 2018

Which brings me to the second reason you shouldn’t believe the media on the fires. It looks, in this map above,  like big swaths of the Earth are on fire?  THAT is an important question, and one most people just gloss over. It comes from the exaggeration of the real size of what is actually on fire.

This graphic data is actually made of what is known as “warm pixels.” In other words, a satellite detected a rise in temperature, and automatically diagnosed these areas as on fire. NASA warns on their website:

“Don’t be fooled by sizes of some of the bright splotches on these maps. The colors represent a count of the number of fires observed within a 1,000-square-kilometer area.”

In other words, again, so we can all understand (thanks NASA for making it so vague), we’re not looking at actual fires, we’re looking at pixels that just symbolize the number of “fires” detected by the satellites within a 1,000 km region. So when we zoom out all these pixels combine together to make it seem like the whole region is on fire, when in actuality, if you zoom in closer, you’ll start seeing the distances between these dots, that are set by satellites not by actual evidence there is a fire there.

However, one can still see the SMOKE from space, as smoke takes on a much larger area than the fire itself, being a thin gas that spreads in the atmosphere. But even here, the media itself doesn’t know what it’s looking at. The third reason you shouldn’t believe the media on this is that they don’t know what they are looking at, and they spread the ignorance.

On several occasions, journalists have interpreted clouds of a storm as smoke from a forest fire. They even reported on it, making the whole situation that much worse. Why? because other news groups are quick to pounce on the “information” and report it, without checking themselves, trusting that the original journalists knew what they were talking about and have already done the legwork – which they haven’t. 

So not only do they mislead other journalists and set a precedent for incorrectly interpreting clouds above the Amazon, but they also cause panic to the general public and cause the diversion of funds to treat non-existent areas. The media rarely uses its power responsibly, and this is a great example of it.

It’s true that there are many fires in South Americe and that some of them are in the Amazon rain forests, but is that unusual? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no.

The map below shows little change, and on Aug. 15, NASA wrote:
“As of August 16, 2019, satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years.” NASA later changed the words “slightly below average” to “close to the average”. Nice save, guys. 

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