'LUNGS OF THE WORLD' BURNING
We are living through a climate emergency and the time to act is now!
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
29 August 2019
Unprecedented wildfires are ripping through the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and deforestation is to blame. Fires are common during the dry season in the Amazon (between July and October). Yet, the world's largest tropical rain forest holds a lot of moisture and fires of the current scale are not a natural occurrence. This year’s situation is the most intense in almost a decade. The largest state in Brazil has declared a state of emergency.
The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) registered more than 75,000 forest fires in Brazil over the first eight months of the year. The data for the same period in 2018 stated 40,000 fires, which comes up to an 85% increase. The north states of Brazil were affected the most. An increase in forest fires was registered in all north regions compared to the same months between 2015-2018. Amazonas fires increased with 81%, Rondônia’s with 115%, Acre’s with 138% and Roraima faced 141% more fires than the previous four years.
Global Importance of the Amazon
Known as "the lungs of the world," the Amazon is home to one of the greatest ecosystems on Earth. It plays a vital role at limiting the global warming crisis by absorbing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year. The Amazon hosts 3 million plants and animal species. The world’s largest tropical rain forest is also homeland to 1 million indigenous people, who rely on its resources to survive.
While the Amazon naturally absorbs harmful greenhouse gases, the current fires restrict that ability. As a result, large amounts of smoke and carbon are spread across and beyond the region. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams) estimates that the smoke has travelled so far, it darkened the São Paulo skies (more than 3,200km away) and reached the Atlantic coast.
Cams is part of the EU’s Earth observation programme. Data from the monitoring service calculates this year’s Amazon fires have released the equivalent of 228 megatons of carbon dioxide so far. Another threat to the environment is the release of carbon monoxide – a gas that is toxic at high levels and occurs when wood is burning, leaving no access to oxygen.
Cause of The Fires
From farmers, who clear land for crops to lightning strikes, a forest fire can occur in many ways. However, the case with the Amazon is different and unarguably alarming. Inpe links the natural disaster in the region directly with deliberate deforestation. The institute uses satellites to track deforestation in real time. In July over 10,000 alerts were sent and the numbers of deforestation were 278% higher than those of July 2018.
Business prospects for the Amazon result in people clearing the land to make room for agriculture and cattle raising. They cut down entire sections of the forest, either leaving the trees to dry or setting them on fire. While this is illegal, the country’s government looks the other way. Activists put the blame on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for encouraging anti-environment, tree-clearing practices.
Apart from harming the global state of the environment, the Amazon fires inevitably affect the indigenous people, who inhabit the region. Not only has the quality of the air they breathe worsened, but their ability to live their day-to-day lives has been negatively affected as well. Some locals’ lands have been badly damaged, as the fires bring death to the flora and fauna alike. Emergency workers, attempting to limit the damage in the region, are setting up sanctuaries across the area for the scared animals that run wild to escape the flames.
More Than the Amazon
Other countries in the Amazon basin have also faced a recent increase in the forest fires. An area of 7.4m km2 (2.9m sq miles) has been burning amid the largest tropical rain forest on the planet. Venezuela experienced more than 26,000 fires this year. Bolivia holds the third place with more than 17,000 fires registered so far. The situation in the east of the country is getting out of hand and a fire-fighting air tanker was hired in attempt to limit the spreading of the flames.
The Amazon is the largest tropical rain forest on Earth, covering 5.5 million square km of the planet’s surface.
According to the World Wildlife Fund 17% of the Brazilian Amazon is already deforested.
The Amazon fires hugely contribute towards the melting of the Greenland’s ice, declared as a “major melting event” by NASA.
The Amazon alone contributes to 20% of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis.
Burning the “lungs of the world” means that humans are sabotaging the entire support system of the planet.
By absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, the Amazon plays a vital role in reducing the climate change.
Forests cover around 30% of the land area on the planet, but deforestation is happening globally at an alarming rate.
Between 1990 and 2016, we lost a forest area larger than South Africa. According to the World Bank the numbers equal to 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometres) of deforestation.
What You Can Do to Help
Sign WWF’s Amazon Emergency Petition requiring the UK government puts the Amazon fire crisis at the top of the G7 agenda.
You can sign a petition to demand that the United Nations and the EU put sanctions and force the Brazil government to address the issue with deforestation.
You can also contact your member of parliament to state your concerns.
Ensure the paper and wood you use are sustainable through the Rainforest Alliance.
Donate to the Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre.
Amazon Frontlines is an activist group fighting to stop the oil drilling and agriculture’s negative effect on the people, who rely on forest resources to survive. Consider donating to help fund these causes and making sure such voices are heard.
Control your consumption of meat and animal by products – agriculture is the main cause behind the Amazon deforestation. Soy also creates a huge profit to Amazon farmers.
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