The afternoon of Monday, August 19, I was at home in my apartment in the city center of São Paulo. Glancing out the window, I noticed the sky was unusually dark. I figured it was about to rain, so I told my children we had to cancel our trip to the park. I thought no more of it, and the next day everything was back to normal. However, to my amazement, I started receiving messages from friends back in the United States asking me if I was “doing OK in the darkness from the smoke.”
I went online and discovered the previous day’s darkened sky was a major international news story, eliciting descriptors like “Mordor” or the “Apocalypse.” That’s a far cry from what I experienced.
“When the rest of the world starts sending out alarms about a local issue, it means there’s something bigger at play,” said Christopher Lingle, visiting professor of economics at the Mackenzie Center for Economic Freedom, São Paulo, in an interview. He also noticed the vast discrepancy between the darkened sky he witnessed personally and the international headlines. “I smelled a political rat,” he said.
The temporary darkness in São Paulo was caused by a rare combination of smoke from fires in the Amazon rainforest, clouds, and a cold front. About 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazilian territory, with the rest spread across several other South...