The party’s campaign video, seen by nearly 3 million people in one week, compares eight years of PT administration data to eight months of data from Bolsonaro’s administration.
On the eve of the first round of the presidential election, PL (Liberal Party – President Bolsonaro’s party) posted a video on YouTube stating that forest fires in the Amazon forest were worse during the PT (Workers Party) administrations than in the current one. The campaign ad had 2.87 million views on the platform by the end of October and was republished in other channels that support the president on YouTube. It is a lie.
The video is based on two numbers. First, it says that there were 2.4 million fires in the Amazon between 2003 and 2010, during the time of Lula’s administration and Dilma’s first term. The information is incorrect. From 2003 to 2010, the official Inpe (National Space Research Institute) system registered 1.26 million active fire events in the Amazon forest, a little more than half of what the ad states. The reason for the difference is that the data used in PL’s video is related to the number of fires across the entirety of Brazil, and not just in the Amazon region.
The video then states that during the Bolsonaro administration there were 49,000 fires between January and August of 2022, comparing two very different things: the entirety of fire events registered in eight years versus the total registered in eight months in 2022. This comparison is wrong not only from the statistical point of view—two different periods of time cannot be compared—but also from the qualitative point of view. It contradicts the statements of the President himself, who said that the Amazon forest can’t catch on fire.
In the Brazilian Legal Amazon region, September and October are traditionally the months that hold the records for the most fires. These months are excluded from the Bolsonaro administration’s count, but they’re added to the PT administrations’ numbers to increase the final total. The correct numbers show that during the current administration, between January 2019 and September 2022, there were 354,700 fire events in the Amazon forest.
Monitor do Fogo, a platform recently launched by MapBiomas that uses a different monitoring method than Inpe, revealed that 29,330 square kilometers in Brazil were consumed by fires in the first seven months of 2022.
How we did the study:
The project Mentira Tem Preço (Lies Have a Price), initiated in 2021 by InfoAmazonia and the production company FALA, monitors and investigates socio-environmental disinformation. During the 2022 elections, we checked the statements of all the gubernatorial candidates for states in the Legal Amazon region every day during the free televised campaign advertisement slots. We also monitor, through keywords related to social justice and the environment, disinformation about the Amazon on social networks, in public groups on messaging apps, and on platforms.
Although that is an area larger than the state of Alagoas, it is still 2% smaller than the total area burned in the same period in 2021. But the Amazon, just like the Pampa biome in the south, saw an increase in the area affected by fire. In the Amazon, an area of 14,797 square kilometers was affected by fire between January and July 2022, an increase of 7% when compared to the same period of 2021. In the Pampa region, it was 286 square kilometers, an increase of 3.4%.
Evolution of fires between 2002 and 2022
Taking into account the number of fire incidents between 2002 and 2022, it’s true that it was very high during the first years of the Lula administration. But between 2003 and 2010 (the period that the video mentions), the number registered by Inpe plummeted—thanks to former Minister of Environment Marina Silva’s treating the problem as a priority between 2002 and 2008.
According to data from the Inpe’s Programa Queimadas (Fire Program), the amount of fires increased in the Amazon biome in 2019 and 2020, the first two years of Bolsonaro’s term. The number decreased in 2021 and went back up in 2022.
While assessing the period mentioned in the video, the peaks registered in 2004, 2007 and 2010, as with the one in 2020, were partially caused by drought, says Alberto Setzer, a researcher and coordinator at the Inpe Programa de Queimadas and one of the greatest fire monitoring specialists in the country.
“Rainier years in the Amazon cause less use and decreased spread of fires, like in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2018. In the same way, dryer years help the use and spread of fire,” he says. “The state of Amazonas has been seeing a growing increase in fire events, and 2022 has surpassed the numbers of previous years. The state of Acre has been increasing the fires since 2011.”
When talking about deforestation, the stage before fire appears, we see that 2021 was the worst of the last 15 years, evaluates the specialist Clarissa Gandour. During that year, Inpe recorded a number she described as “disastrous”: 13,235 square kilometers of deforested areas.
PL and YouTube did not respond to requests for a comment by the time of publication.
“The information panels also present links to third-party websites. This information will be shown independent of the opinion or perspectives shown in the videos,” says YouTube’s press release. According to YouTube, a specific analysis of the video in question was conducted and the video was not found to be in violation of community guidelines. However, a panel on electoral integrity with more information on the subject was made available to users.
This report is part of the project Lies Have a Price (Mentira Tem Preço)—election special, produced by InfoAmazonia in partnership with the production company Fala. The initiative is part of the Consortium of Civil Society Organizations, Fact checking Agencies and Independent Journalism for the Fight Against Socio-environmental Disinformation. They are also a part of the Initiative the Climate Observatory (Fakebook), the Eco, the Pública, Repórter Brasil and The Facts.
Content is authorized to be republished if published in its entirety. Lies Have a Price is not responsible for alterations to the content by third-parties.