The Amazon Forest is being burned

The Amazon Forest is being burned

The Amazon Forest is currently burning at a rapid rate and has remained as such for the past three weeks ; forest fires covering immense expanses of land are devouring everything in their path. There have been 73,000 fires this year already, an 80% increase compared to the previous year of 2019. The fires are said to be started mainly by farmers in order to try and clear land. These wildfires are occurring at a rate which is not considered to be natural and there is a particular reason for this.

Reason for the Burning of the Amazon

President of Brazil : Jair Bolsonaro

Even though wildfires are natural in hot and dry conditions, the unusually high frequency of these fires currently is due to an economic and political reason. Most people agree that the cause of these fires in the Amazon is related to President Jair Bolsonaro ; the right-wing President of Brazil. During last year’s elections in 2018, Bolsonaro promised to make the Amazon rainforest more economically productive than it currently is, hence bringing Brazil more prosperity and affluence after the recent recession that had taken place in the country.

It is commonly believed that the burning of the Amazon rainforest is happening with the permission of Brazil’s President due to the economic value that the forest can bring; deforestation and tree logging are being permitted so that Brazil can export the trees and the land that is cleared by the fires can be used for agriculture. So it is blatantly obvious to infer that Bolsonaro is allowing the burning and deforestation of these trees for the economic prosperity of Brazil.

Despite the obvious reasons for the Amazon fires, Bolsonaro blames the cause of these fires on the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). However, the fact that President Bolsonaro neglects and mocks the environmentalists strongly solidifies the notion that he permits the burning of the forests. He had also fired the Head of Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute when he had claimed deforestation had grown by 40%. But most significantly, Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental views allied with his environmental policies (which include opening the Amazon rainforest to development and agricultural business) strongly suggest he is involved in the burning of the Amazon.

The Response

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron blames the Brazilian President for starting these fires and tweeted that ‘ Our house is burning’. This issue was also raised in this year’s G7 summit and the burning of the Amazon poses a threat to the Paris Climate Pact. There is major international pressure from many countries such as Germany, France and Norway; Norway has donated some money to help but Bolsonaro states that he does not ned foreign help or advise and refused the money from Norway. Germany and France are also trying to block trade deals between the EU and Brazil, in order to force Bolsonaro to keep in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement and halt the burning of the Amazon. Recently, Brazil has rejected aid from G7 but has accepted aid from Britain.

Why is the Amazon Rainforest Important ?

Maintaining Biodiversity

Different types of birds in the Amazon sitting on a tree

The Amazon Rainforest has an area of roughly 5.5 million km² and is an area which is extremely biodiverse. 25% of the world’s species is present in the Amazon which includes 300,000 species of plants and animals and home to nearly 50% of plants and animals worldwide. New species are also being discovered recently. Maintaining this biodiversity involves keeping the Amazon protected. The burning of the Amazon forests reduces biodiversity because the fires damage the habitats of many plants and animals. Reducing biodiversity could have huge impacts.

For example, reduction in biodiversity could have major impacts on ecosystems. This is because populations of predators and prey change, resulting in the food chain being damaged and global food supplies can also be affected as a lot of the fruits that we eat originate from this forest. Damaging the ecosystem could destroy the whole Amazon rainforest.

Humans have made medicines from plants and trees for thousands of years. Since the Amazon forest is such a biodiverse area, there may be plant species( that humans are unaware of) that have new medicinal properties to cure certain diseases that we are struggling to cure.

The extremely biodiverse nature of the Amazon makes the landscape extraordinarily attractive. It also provides a beautiful terrain to explore. For these reasons, many tourists visit the Amazon rainforest; but tourism to the rainforest is not as high compared to other areas. This is because the Amazon is only suitable for those looking for an exotic adventure. Burning the Amazon reduces the money that might come through tourism to the forest and Brazil as a whole.

Oxygen and Carbon dioxide

The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon is home to many plants and trees. Plants take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in a process called photosynthesis. This means that the trees in the Amazon help supply oxygen for humans that live Earth (essential for respiration in humans and hence essential for survival). In fact, 20% of the world’s oxygen is supplied by the Amazon. So if the entirety of the Amazon rainforest was burnt down, it would become harder to breathe for humans.

Plants also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it is one of the raw materials needed for photosynthesis in order to produce food for themselves (i.e. glucose). The Amazon absorbs 600 million tonnes of carbon each year. Carbon dioxide (which is a greenhouse gas) emissions are increasing rapidly due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels. The emission of greenhouse gases is leading to global warming (i.e. the average temperature of the earth is increasing). This is a type of climate change that can cause changing rainfall patterns, melting of polar ice caps, rising of sea levels and increases in flooding and extreme weather, all of which have tremendous consequences on both humans and the environment. So the Amazon rainforest is helping to stabilise Earth’s climate and temperature by absorbing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, highlighting the fact that humans may not be able to survive in a world without the Amazon Rainforest. If the Amazon is burnt down, the trees that previously stood there would not be able to absorb carbon dioxide and hence this would result in global warming to increase at a much faster rate. The burning and decay of these trees and plants in the Amazon also releases carbon dioxide and methane, both of which are greenhouse gases.

So the burning and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could have serious impacts on a worldwide scale.

Tribal groups lose homes

Tribes in the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon is home to roughly 1 million American Indians who are divided into 400 tribes, each with their unique culture and language. Burning of the Amazon forest could force these people out of their homes. The culture and lifestyle of these tribal groups may also be lost, making it harder for us to investigate their ancestral roots and way of life. There are also 31 million people, overall, who live in the Amazon. So you can see how burning the Amazon can have social impacts due to the fact that several indigenous people will lose their homes to the flames of the roaring fires.

Soil Fertility and Soil Erosion

The decrease in the number of trees would mean that the soil wouldn’t be able to absorb the water. This would increase surface run-off of water which would remove fertile soil from the Amazon, making it unsuitable to farm on (one of the main reasons that the Amazon is being burnt by farmers). Soil erosion would also take place.

Carbon dioxide in ocean

Atlantic Ocean

The burning and decay of all the trees in the Amazon could release up to 140 billion tons of carbon. This is equivalent to four times the carbon emitted annually worldwide. As well as contributing to global warming, some of this carbon dioxide could dissolve in the oceans, making the ocean water acidic, resulting in many aquatic plants and animals to die (world wide) as a result. This could affect the food chain and hence the human food supply, decreasing our supply of seafood.

Changing Rainfall and Climate

Effects of Climate Change picture

Plants and trees release water as vapour from their leaves. This water vapour rises to form the clouds and this is followed by rain. Trees in the Amazon account for up to 15 % of water vapour in the atmosphere and this equates to a lot of rain, some of this rainfall providing water for animals and plants in the Amazon forest. Cutting and burning these trees would result in a severe lack in rain in the Amazon (endangering the ecosystem in the Amazon) and this shortage of precipitation would extend to northern parts of America as well. The burning of these Amazonian trees would also have world wide climate change impacts, with the whole world experiencing shortage in precipitation (in other words; drought).

I have highlighted just a few of the many problems that burning the plants and trees in the Amazon can bring. There are many more complex issues that have not been covered.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that more international pressure (e.g. in the form of negotiation and other means) must be put on Brazil in order to make Bolsonaro stop the burning of the Amazon forest. The burning of the Amazon forest is not only a problem related to Brazil (and surrounding countries) but a global problem. This is because the Amazon provides 20% of global oxygen and also acts as a huge carbon sink, helping maintain global climate and temperature to name a few global contributions that this historic rainforest provides.

Brazil needs to realise that the Amazon Rainforest is within the interests of the whole world and that they need to maintain the rainforest to keep the Earth healthy and prosperous. However, a lot of the land in southern America is covered by the Amazon. Despite covering a huge land area, it is not very economically productive in relation to its huge area. No one is paying Brazil because the Amazon is providing oxygen. So it is in Brazil’s best interest to make the Amazon more economically productive for their own prosperity.

The sooner Brazil realise that the consequences of burning the Amazon outweigh the immediate benefits that they may receive, the more healthier our planet will be.

Let us help keep our home healthy so that we can all live a prosperous life in harmony with nature.

Picture of Earth

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Surya Senthilkumar

Surya Senthilkumar

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