Heightening the Fires in Amazon Rainforest
In 1989, environmental scientists warned TIME that “unless things change, the forest will disappear.” Thirty years later, their alarm still largely unheeded — rings as loud as ever.
The Amazon rainforest, also known as Amazonia or the Amazon jungle is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest. With borders shared by nine nations, traversed by one of the world’s mightiest rivers and boasting mindboggling biodiversity, Amazon is the world’s most important and impressive rainforest. It was discovered back in the 16th century by a Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana after first-ever navigation of the Amazon River.
The approximate area of the historical Amazon forests is about 5.5 million km² and due to this vastness, they represent over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with about 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in some other regions. As the up-to-the significance of Amazonia, this region is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. One in five of all bird species are found in the Amazon rainforest, and one in five of the fish species live in Amazonian rivers and streams. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 1,28,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone. This is the world’s largest eco-system and a place from where much of our modern medicine derives. Tropical forests and woodlands exchange vast amounts of water and energy with the atmosphere and are thought to be important in controlling local and regional climates. According to recent studies, Amazon’s extreme significance lies in the fact that it does lead the rain patterns.
“The Amazon rainforest is burning”. This is the news that prompted shock and fear across the world as Brazil’s space research agency reported this week that a record number of fires have broken out in the forest this year.
The burning Amazon was featured on the cover of TIME in 1989, with an accompanying piece detailing the impact of fires that were set by farmers and cattle ranchers as part of an annual custom to clear land for crops and livestock. The fires in the forest now are also man-made, and deforestation can bring on other factors that can lead to them spreading faster, according to an environmentalist of the University of Virginia, Lawrence. “When you put fire near a forest, the edges get some of that heat,” she says. “They experience the fire to a modest degree, which makes them susceptible to future fires”. Moreover, these fires are no accident. They are a result of the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who since coming to power in January has weakened environmental protections in the region, slashed the budget of Brazil’s environmental protection agency by 95%, encouraged the clearing of land for agribusiness, failed to stem the illegal logging trade, and has called for the eradication of the near 1 million indigenous people living within the forests.
The destruction of the Amazon rainforest would be immense destruction of the entire planet. Moist tropical forests are distinguished by their canopies of interlocking leaves and branches that shelter creatures below to protect them from any environmental condition, and by their incredible variety of animal and plant life. If the forests vanish, so will more than 1 million species, which literally will be a great loss as they are a significant part of the earth’s biological diversity and genetic heritage. Moreover, the burning of the Amazon could have dramatic effects on global weather patterns, e.g. heightening the warming trend that may result from the greenhouse effect. The Amazon region stores at least 75 billion tons of carbon in its trees, which when burned to spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Since the air is already dangerously overburdened by carbon dioxide from the cars and factories of industrial nations, the devastation of the Amazon would magnify the greenhouse effect. No one knows just what impact the buildup of CO2 will have, but some scientists fear that the globe will begin to warm up, bringing on wrenching climate changes, and the signs of it could be seen today too as July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
With the fires burning a lot of that away, there’s fear that it could eventually cause irreversible damage to the world’s climate. It is estimated that more than 3,500 square miles of Amazon forest have been scorched by fire this year, and that’s an area about the size of Yellowstone National Park. The Arctic has also seen an increase in wildfires in Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia.
In the Amazon itself, deforestation has continued, leading to enormous risks for the animal species living there. Scientists in 2012 found that deforestation over 30 years in parts of the Amazon has been destructive enough to ensure regional extinction for 38 species, including 10 mammal species, 20 bird species, and 8 amphibian species, and this is what researchers wrote in the 2012 study that was published in Science, “Realistic deforestation scenarios suggest that local regions will lose an average of 9 vertebrate species and have a further 16 committed to extinction by 2050”.
Speaking with TIME this week, Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre said, “We have to quickly set up a policy of zero deforestation”. Nobre’s calculations in a 2016 study found that deforestation in the Amazonia will send it past a “tipping point”, creating savanna-like climate conditions to large forests. While that was not expected to happen for about 25 to 30 years but Nobre says if deforestation rates continue to rise, the world could see those conditions in just 15 to 20 years.
Regarding fires in Amazonia as a global crisis, the world awoke and stood up to take some actions to control this issue. Online hashtags urged people to pray for the Amazon and to spread awareness of the fires. By Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron had called discussions of the “international crisis” to be at the top of the agenda at the G7 Summit in France. He tweeted on 23rd August 2019,” Our house is burning. The Amazon rain forest, the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen, is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!
As Brazil covers about 60% of the Amazon forests and observing the immensely spreading of fires in the Amazon rainforest, so a day after Brazil rejected aid from G-7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon due to some political reasons, the Brazilian leader has said on 27th August 2019 that his government will accept all foreign aid from organizations or countries, as long as it can decide how to use the assistance. G-7 countries made the $20 million aid offer to fight the blazes, at the Biarritz G-7 summit hosted by French President Macron, who insisted they should be discussed as a top priority.
As an ecological disaster in the Amazon escalated into a global political crisis, Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro took the rare step on Friday of mobilizing the armed forces to help contain blazes of a scale not seen in nearly a decade. On Friday, he said that he was planning to send the military to enforce environmental laws and to help contain the fires starting Saturday. “I have a profound love and respect for the Amazon,” he said in a rare scripted message. “Protecting the rain forest is our duty.”
Earlier this month, a group of farmers, loggers and business owners in Novo Progresso and elsewhere announced that they would be setting coordinated fires as a show of force by industries that express displeasure to the enforcement of environmental laws.
In an article for Brazil’s O Globo newspaper on Wednesday, one prominent forestry expert warned that the country’s annual burning season had yet to fully play out and called for urgent steps to reduce the potential damage.
A forest engineer and environmentalist Azevedo called for urgent measures such as a crackdown on deforestation in indigenous territories and conservation units and outlawing deliberate burning in the Amazon until at least the end of October when the dry season ends.
Brazilian President Bolsonaro confirmed on Wednesday that he would attend a meeting with other South American leaders in neighboring Colombia on the 6th of September, in order to draw up a coordinated response to the crisis. The meeting announced on Tuesday will seek to draw up a plan to protect the Amazon rainforest, which straddles Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, and Suriname.
Our response to this crisis also matters a lot. Yes! we all should join hands to do something at our level to bewield the fires in Amazon rainforest like showing some financial support to Protect an Acre(PAA), supporting indigenous populations, reducing our wood and paper consumption, voting to the right person who is ambitious enough to stand up for protecting the planet, by challenging corporations and by raising awareness about this issue to the people who are still unaware. All of these actions are important, and though they may seem like a small drop in the ocean on an individual scale, collectively we can make a big difference. There is still time to push for change, hold power to account, and halt environmental destruction, but we must act today because this is the matter for our future; our future generations.
Mobeen Hussain & Araib Fatima