The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire

What’s Happening in the Amazon Rainforest?

The earth’s lungs are on fire; the Amazon rainforest is burning at a devastating rate. The Brazilian Amazon has undergone more than 74,000 fires this year, whereas last year’s total was around 40,000. Around 10,000 of the 2019 fires have started in the past couple of weeks. Some of these fires were started by farmers and loggers seeking to use Amazonian land for industrial or agricultural purposes. However, once the blazes start, hot temperatures and dry conditions because of climate change enabled the flames to spread farther and faster.

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire
Aerial picture of the forest burning.

In normal circumstances, the Amazonian dry season is from July to October, peaking in late September. Wetter weather during the rest of the year minimises the risk of fires at other times. During the dry season, fires can spark from natural sources, like lightning strikes. On the other hand, farmers and loggers also purposefully set fire to the rainforest to clear areas of the Amazon for industrial or agricultural use. The intense fires in the Amazon now have widespread effects on the rest of Brazil. The smoke clouds from the flames spread from the state of Amazonas to the nearby states of Pará and Mato Grosso and even blotted out the sun in São Paulo – a city more than 2,000 miles (3,000km) away. This week of fires comes on the heels of another worrisome milestone for the world’s largest rainforest.

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire
Day and night these fires have been burning.

The month of July set a new record for the most deforestation ever in the Amazon in a single month, The Amazon shrunk by 519 square miles (1,345 square kilometres). That’s more than twice the area of Tokyo. Brazilian satellites indicated that about three football fields’ worth of Amazonian trees fell every minute last month. The total deforested area in July was up 39% from the same month the previous year. Brazil controls the lion’s share of the Amazon.  If you thought President Donald Trump was a problem for the natural environment, he’s nothing compared to Jair Bolsonaro the Brazilian President. He has indicated that protecting the rainforest is not one of his top priorities. Bolsonaro supports development projects like a highway and hydroelectric dam in the Amazon. His administration has also cut down on the seizing of illegally harvested timber. In 2018 (under the previous administration), 883,000 cubic feet of illegal timber was seized. As of May 15, Bolsonaro’s government agencies had seized only 1,410 cubic feet. Another worrisome factor is that between January and May, Bolsonaro’s government lowered the number of fines it charged for illegal deforestation and mining (down 34% from the same period in 2018) and decreased its monitoring of the illicit activity in the rainforest.

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire
The aftermath of destruction.

Reporters asked Bolsonaro about the record rate of uncontrolled fires in Brazil; he pointed to the fact that it’s a time of year when farmers purposefully use fire to clear land – a seasonal cycle called “queimada.” This may be an annual cycle and a natural event but due to climate change a dry season can only become worse. It can clearly be seen that Bolsonaro is using “queimada.” as a smokescreen to keep environmentalist groups and foreign governments from intervening. All the while encouraging the destruction of rainforest to loggers and agriculturalists to destroy the forest to make room for industrialisation. Brazil is not the wealthiest of countries, and due to the massive human population, many jobs are needed. There need be a balance between communities cared for as well as the natural environment. Many people rely on the forest’s resources – take that away, and it’s not just the wildlife that will suffer.

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire
Smoke consumes the sky of Brazil and further afield.

Indigenous Tribal Life at risk

For decades, the Waiapi tribe have lived in the Brazilian state of Amapa in near-isolation from the non-indigenous world and in harmony with the rainforest. The river and trees that support their way of life, Bolsonaro wants to change, with proposals that include moving the tribe out of their legally demarcated territory and opening the land to miners to exploit dormant deposits of copper, iron and gold near their homes. His pro-business policies in the Amazon have recently come under attack for encouraging deforestation. The Waiapi believe they are the guardians of the Amazon and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect it.

“Some time ago, we lived well; we did not worry about land,” says the 59-year-old Ajareaty, one of the Waiapi’s few female chiefs. “We did not know we would have many invaders, loggers and prospectors in the future. Many talk about our land today,  saying that they want to take our land.” This was made more evident when a group of mineworkers killed the chief of the tribe recently. 

Indigenous tribal life is under threat due to illegal fires and palm oil plantations.

Amazon Watch warned of the dangers of deforestation, environmental crimes and human rights violations and argued that indigenous land rights are “intrinsically linked” to preserving the biome.

Why should we care about the Amazon Rainforest?

As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon plays a vital role in keeping our planet’s carbon-dioxide levels balanced. Plants and trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air in their process of photosynthesis. They play a key and irreplaceable role in regulating global climate change. This is why the Amazon, which covers 2.1 million square miles, is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”: The forest emits 20% of the oxygen of our planet’s atmosphere. Forests provide food and shelter and are critical to sustaining biodiversity. They are often considered to be the planet’s most bio-diverse places, but vast swathes are being destroyed in the name of large-scale commercial efforts. If the fires carry on, eventually the forest will turn into a savannah type ecosystem. This is not good news for the diversity of wildlife that depends on the complex forest ecosystem. Fires are not the only problem that faces the rainforest. Palm oil is also a big threat.

Many nations have set up donations in order to aid the Brazilian rainforest, however due to politics it has been delayed. The Brazilian government has banned burning of the rainforest for two months.

The Lungs of the Earth are on Fire
The biodiversity of wildlife in the forest is quickly being consumed by flames.

In regards to climate change, instead of drawing in and storing carbon dioxide, the Amazon Rainforest is now letting off plumes of smoke into the atmosphere releasing carbon dioxide. This, in turn, raises the temperature of the earth, which then causes glaciers to melt, increasing sea levels. This is just a simple way of looking at it, but far more issues can and are arising due to wildfires across the globe. One such point is increased breathing problems like asthma.

I saw a comment on Facebook the other day saying that it was too late to save the Amazon. This was my response “It’s only too late if we give up hope, stop acting and spreading awareness. It’s also not too late if enough awareness and pressure are put on the Brazilian government to change. Never give up on the environment; you’ll be surprised at how resilient she really is”.

Protection of the rainforest is imperative to all life of earth.


Photo Credits

Daily mail




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