Data on Amazon Rainforest Fires Tell a Much Different Story Than Social Media

Outrage has replaced reason in the debate surrounding biodiversity and poisoned the way we talk about workable solutions.

By Bill Wirtz, Thursday, September 5, 2019, Foundation for Economic Education

“Our House Is on Fire”

It is hard to miss the news reports on the fire in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Millions of people are calling for immediate action on social media and, with a limited amount of prior knowledge, there is little surprise that much of what is being reported is inaccurate.

A wide array of celebrities have drawn attention to the problem, mostly through tweets, ranging from superstar sportspeople to famous actors. When asked what Madonna, Christiano Ronaldo, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Emmanuel Macron have in common, you’re probably expecting a funny joke. In fact, all of these people have shared pictures about the fires online that were proven to be much older. In the case of the French president, the photograph he posted was taken by a photographer who died in 2003, making it at least 16 years old.


“Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet, which produced 20% of the world’s oxygen, is on fire. This is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let’s meet in two days to talk about this emergency. #ActForTheAmazon”

Even Pope Francis has joined the call to protect the rainforest.

With calls such as “Save the Amazon” or “Amazon emergency,” the relevant thing to do is to put things in perspective. We know that the number of fires in Brazil this year is more than last year, but it is also about the same as 2016 and less than 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2012. Data from the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil, which works with NASA, shows that 2019 is not out of line. This data is received when analyzing satellite imagery.


PHOTO CREDIT: By Guilherme Braga Gomes – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,