'Stop the Burning of Amazon Rainforest' Petition Nears Goal of 500,000 Signatures

A petition urging the Brazilian government to ban the burning of the Amazon rainforest garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures after it was launched on Change.org on Tuesday.

Gabriel Santos, a lawyer from Rio Branco, Brazil, started the petition to call attention to the widespread fires ravaging the world's largest land ecosystem. He requested the government put an end to the allowed clearing of land by fire in the Amazon. "We are asking the authorities to set up an inquiry to investigate what is leading to the increase in fires in this region and hold the culprits to account," Santos said in a statement.

'Stop the Burning of Amazon Rainforest' petition garners over 755,000 signatures
In this picture taken on December 1, 2009, a fire burns part of the 500 thousand hectares of the Tapajos National forest along route BR163 between Santarem and Cuiaba, in the Amazon region in northern Brazil. As the Amazon continues to burn for the third week, a Change.org petition gained hundreds of thousands of signatures calling on the government to ban brush fires in the rainforest. The petition was launched on August 20, 2019. ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images

"I have spent all my life here, and when I saw that the place I live in was on fire I couldn't take no other action but to use my voice to engage people around the country to defend our rainforest," Santos added to Newsweek on Thursday.

Forest fires have drastically increased since Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro — a conservative leader who favors development over conservation — took office in July 2018. While land clearing in Brazil has typically been done by farmers and ranchers setting fires to brush and trees, under Bolsonaro's regime deforestation in the Amazon has increased by almost 85 percent compared to this time last year, according to satellite data gathered by the National Institute for Space Research.

In his petition, Santos, who lives in the heart of the Amazon in the city of Acre, noted the more than 70,000 new fire points that have emerged since last summer. The NISR found 75,000 fires so far this year across all of Brazil compared to more than 40,000 during the same timeframe in 2018.

"More than half of the fires are in the Amazon, which is not only killing biodiversity and ecosystems but also damaging the health of millions, especially the elderly and children who cannot breathe due to smoke," Santos continued.

"Last Monday afternoon, the population of São Paulo was surprised to see the city going dark at 3 p.m. from the heavy smoke billowing from the fires in the North. And that made us understand one thing: it doesn't matter if we're northerners or southerners," he concluded. "Whether you are living on the banks of the river or an executive working in the city. The dismantling of environmental policies will affect all of us."

Considered the Earth's lungs, the Amazon rainforest is responsible for 20 percent of the planet's oxygen. The greenery within the vast, wet landscape essentially envelopes carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, potentially causing adverse health effects and speeding up global warming and climate change.

Although scientists are confident people are behind the fires, Bolsonaro claimed his administration was not to blame, but rather his ecological opponents who wanted to make him look bad, according to The Washington Post.

Updated Thursday, August 22 at 10: 14 p.m. ET: This article was updated to include the correct number of signatures. The headline and photo caption were corrected to properly reflect this change. A statement from the petition's creator was also added.

'Stop the Burning of Amazon Rainforest' Petition Nears Goal of 500,000 Signatures | News