Insights into Editorial: For the Amazon fires, the worst is yet to come
Over the last several days, the Amazon rainforest has been burning at a rate that has alarmed environmentalists and governments worldwide.
Mostly caused by farmers clearing land, the fires have thrown the spotlight on Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies and anti-environment stance.
Thousands of fires are ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – the most intense blazes for almost a decade.
Brazil declared a state of emergency over the rising number of fires in the region. So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected by Brazil’s space research center.
About Amazon Rainforest:
- The Amazon rainforest stretches across 5.5 million square kilometers, an area far larger than the EU.
- The Amazon rainforest home to one in 10 species on Earth is on fire. As of last week, 9,000 wildfires were raging simultaneously across the vast rainforest of Brazil and spreading into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru.
- The Amazon rainforest is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America.
- The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and France (French Guiana).
- The blazes, largely set intentionally to clear land for cattle ranching, farming, and logging, have been exacerbated by the dry season.
- They’re now burning in massive numbers, an 80 percent increase over this time last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The fires can even be seen from space.
How did the Amazon fires start?
- According to Brazil’s space research center (INPE), the country has seen an 80% increase in fires this year, compared with the same period last year.
- According to INPE, more than half were in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology and 99% percent of the fires result from human actions “either on purpose or by accident”.
- The weekly Brasil de fato reported that Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric has emboldened farmers, who organised a “fire day” along BR-163, a highway that runs through the heart of the rainforest.
- The weekly quoted a report by local newspaper, that local farmers had set fire to sections of the rainforest a few days ago to get the government’s attention.
- While the Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid, July and August are the onset of the dry season (the region’s driest months).
- Fire is often used to clear out the land for farming or ranching. For that reason, a vast majority of the fires can be attributed to humans.
Why are the Amazon fires a cause for concern?
It is also home to indigenous communities whose lives and homelands are under threat due to encroachment by the Brazil government, foreign corporations and governments with economic interests in the resource-rich region, and local farmers.
Research by scientists Carlos Nobre and Thomas E Lovejoy suggests that further deforestation could lead to the Amazon’s transformation from the world’s largest rainforest to a savanna, which would reverse the region’s ecology.
A National Geographic report said the Amazon rainforest influences the water cycle not only on a regional scale, but also on a global scale.
The rain produced by the Amazon travels through the region and even reaches the Andes mountain range. Moisture from the Atlantic falls on the rainforest, and eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere.
The report said the Amazon rainforest has the ability to produce at least half of the rain it receives. This cycle is a delicate balance.
Consequences of present situation:
Fires are set deliberately and spread easily in the dry season. The desire for new land for cattle farming has been the main driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since the 1970s.
The devastating loss of biodiversity does not just affect Brazil.
The loss of Amazonian vegetation directly reduces rain across South America and other regions of the world.
The planet is losing an important carbon sink, and the fires are directly injecting carbon into the atmosphere.
If we can’t stop deforestation in the Amazon, and the associated fires, it raises real questions about our ability to reach the Paris Agreement to slow climate change.
The growing numbers of fires are the result of illegal forest clearing to create land for farming.
Germany and Norway have suspended funding for programmes that aim to stop deforestation in the Amazon and have accused Brazil of doing little to protect the forests.
Indigenous groups and environment activists have led protests and criticised Bolsonaro for his comments and policies.
Neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields and, in many cases, got out of control in high winds after being set by residents clearing land for farming. About 7,500 square kilometres of land has been affected in Bolivia.
The Brazilian government has set an ambitious target to stop illegal deforestation and restore 4.8 million hectares of degraded Amazonian land by 2030.
If these goals are not carefully addressed now, it may not be possible to meaningfully mitigate climate change.
The untold number of species of every kind of living thing, many thousands of which have never been described by scientists are suffering. We all need to come together to protect it.