Smokescreen is a special coverage developed by Ambiental Media thanks to a partnership established with the Rainforest Journalism Fund (RJF) and the Pulitzer Center.

Over a period of several months, a multimedia team of journalists, photographer, designers, developers and programmers immersed themselves in data on fire and deforestation in the Amazon and conducted interviews with a dozen scientists from different institutions, in addition to traveling to the lower Tapajós river region, in the State of Pará (before Covid-19 pandemic). The result is one of the most complete journalistic dossiers recently published in Brazil on the intrinsic relationship between the two phenomena – both provoked by human action in the humid rainforest.

In order to have a more thorough coverage, we analyzed data at the level of rural properties, cross-examining data from the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and data on fire density (BDQueimadas, Inpe), focusing on the four municipalities that most deforested in 2019: Altamira and São Félix do Xingu, in the State of Pará; Porto Velho, in the State of Rondônia; and Lábrea, in the State of Amazonas (read more on methodology). The analysis reveals that these four leading cities also had the highest burning rate for the same period throughout the Amazon region – which reinforces the correlation between fire and deforestation – in addition to 72% of fire hotspots occurring in medium or large rural properties, in the locations analyzed within this one property classification.

These results are extremely relevant in opposing current government officials’ narratives, which systematically blame small farmers in traditional Amazonian communities for forest fires, a version which fails to be corroborated by data. Even if family farmers do make use of small controlled burning in slash-and-burn agriculture and these fires could “escape” to forest areas, our extensive investigation clearly demonstrates that recent forest fires in the Amazon hold a deep-rooted relationship with the intensification of deforestation.

Finally, to differentiate the types of fire in the Amazon, we once again resort to science with illustrations on the use of fires in different scenarios. By clarifying data and nuances on a matter as complex as fire, we hope to contribute to debunk distorted narratives whose goal is solely to demoralize and mislead. We believe this to be a crucial direction for Brazilian journalism to take today.

Smokescreen Project Team

Thiago Medaglia, editor
A Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT 2020, he is the founder of Ambiental Media, former editor for National Geographic Brasil and a speaker on the latest editions of World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ, 2017 and 2019).

Laura J. Kurtzberg, maps and data
An Assistant Professor at Florida International University as well as a data visualization designer and frontend software engineer, she uses her experience in science communication and web development to inspire people to explore data through interactive stories and experiences.

Flavio Forner, photographer and programmer
Photojournalist and web developer. He worked on projects for National Geographic and the newspapers The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S. Paulo; BBC and TV Cultura. Awarded by the Society for News Design in 2010.

Letícia Maria Klein Lobe, reporter
Journalist focusing on environmental and scientific issues. She is the creator and author of the blog Sustenta Ações as well as a reporter for Ambiental Media. Her work has appeared in several outlets, including Mongabay, National Geographic, Projeto Colabora, and Conexão Planeta. She is also the editor of Um Só Planeta newsletter, a Brazilian editorial movement aimed at impactful solutions to the climate crisis.

Alessandro Meiguins, illustrations
Alessandro Meiguins is a journalist and infographics designer focused on civic, social, environmental, educational, and scientific impact and relevance. His company, Shake Visual Content, develops sustainable infographics and reports for national and international companies, of different segments.

Marcos de Lima, illustrations
Marcos de Lima is an infographics designer and illustrator. He has collaborated with publications such as magazines Mundo Estranho, Superinteressante and Galileu. Currently employed by Shake, he tells stories through visual narrative.

Maria Bitarello, translation and research
Maria Bitarello is a journalist, writer, editor and translator. She has collaborated with Ambiental Media, National Geographic Brasil, World Animal Protection, Greenpeace Brasil, Sustainable Amazon Network (RAS) and [email protected] NGO. She has translated books and articles for various outlets and websites and has two non-fiction books published.

About Ambiental Media

Ambiental transforms scientific content into innovative, attractive and accessible journalism. We work in favor of spreading science to the general public and strengthening independent scientific journalism in Brazil. Visit: www.ambiental.media