Mongabay Features

Michael Shellenberger’s sloppy Forbes diatribe deceives on Amazon fires

This image, based on measurements taken by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), shows the areas of the Amazon basin that were affected by the severe 2005 drought. Areas in yellow, orange, and red experienced light, moderate, and severe drought, respectively. Green areas did not experience drought. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech /Google

I understand the desire to correct misinformation that proliferates in the aftermath of breaking news events. And I understand the frustration of sensationalist headlines that mislead readers. But columnist Michael Shellenberger’s attempt in Forbes to correct the record on fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon was sloppy at best, and deceiving at worst.

Shellenberger is right on several points, including the poor choice of “Lungs of the Earth” as a moniker for the Amazon rainforest, the fact that both deforestation and fires have been substantially higher in the recent past, the widespread use by the media of old or irrelevant photos to depict the current fires, the need to meaningfully engage ranchers and farmers in Amazon preservation, and the under-appreciation of the impact of sub-canopy fires.

But he’s wrong about some other important points. These are listed and refuted below.


By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.