This week many of us woke up to the social media outcry about the record-breaking numbers of Amazon forest fires. Celebrities, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and many others had spoken out, sharing and re-sharing pictures of fires and satellite shots of the deforestation of Amazon, with news channels picking up the trend in a few days.
So, what is really happening in Amazon? Are the fires this year any worse than annual forest fires? And if so, should we really worry about it?
What is Amazon forest?
Amazon forest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering the area of approximately 5.5 million km2 or 2.1 million miles2, which is a bit more in size than half of all the United States.
Why is Amazon forest important?
First of all, it is a home to about 3 million species of plants and animals, and 1 million indigenous people.
We, humans, should support the biodiversity on our planet. It boosts ecosystem productivity. Each life specie plays a role in the ‘circle of life’. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all the life forms. To simplify this, we know that sadly some kids grow up believing that apples grow on supermarket shelves and not on the tree branches, but this does not make it true. And we as adults, should understand that the single crop varieties that the big corporations offer us for consumption, surreally make food more accessible to the population right now, but are not the answer for the long-term longevity of the planet. Single crops mean basically to put all the eggs in 1 basket. We do need the biodiversity to survive as the humankind in the long-term.
Secondly, Amazon forest is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. But how?
Well, we’ve all learned in school about photosynthesis, a process that happens in plants when they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. And that is exactly what all those trees and bushes in Amazon are busy doing for all of us. That’s why Amazon is often referred to as the ‘lungs of the Earth’, since more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced there.
So, it does produce oxygen, fine… but how does it help with climate change, you may ask?…
That’s a fair question and the answer lies in all this carbon dioxide that it absorbs from the air and stores safely inside. Hopefully, we all know by now about the dangers of the global warming. Well, the greenhouse gases emitted though human activity, such as combustion of fossil fuels in cars, buildings, factories, and power plants, hang in the air, let the sunlight through, but trap the heat that radiates from the surface and prevent it from escaping back to the atmosphere. This is called the ‘greenhouse’ effect. Carbon dioxide has the greatest potential to trapping the heat and also exists in the highest proportion in our air, in comparison to other greenhouse gases, that’s why it is responsible for the most part of the warming on our planet.
Keeping this in mind, consider that the Amazon trees had pulled in carbon dioxide equivalent to the fossil fuel emissions of most of the 9 South American countries that own or border the forest between 1980-2010.
In other words, all the environmental damage that humans in that region had done to the planet in 30 years had been fully compensated by the sole activity of the rainforest. How cool is that? Wouldn’t you think that knowing that everyone would want to plant a tree to compensate for all the harm we do to our planet? Well, it turns out that not all are aware and even less care…
Deforestation stats throughout history and now
The truth is that between 2004 and 2012 deforestation rates actually went done about 84% (PRODES), thanks to the efforts of present at those times Brazilian governments, who had enforced punishments for the illegal logging in the forest.
So, we are good, right? The short answer is ‘No’. Even since 2012 the deforestation rates had been going up, breaking records each year.
And what makes it even more terrifying is that 2019 is believed to become the worst year for the Amazon. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that more than a quarter of the Amazon will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation continues.
The majority of the Amazon rainforest (about 60%) is contained within Brazil, and Mr Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president, had openly suggested opening the world’s largest tropical rainforest to mining, farming and dam building. Ever since he had taken his office in January, he had pushed though policies harming the Amazon. For one, he had changed the governance structure of the Amazon protection Fund and closed down the steering committee that selects the projects to back. This caused one of the major donors, Norway, to pull out its payment of USD 33m this year and Germany to follow the suit with its USD 39m donation cancelled, due to concerns over the increasing deforestation.
The other thing that Bolsonaro’s government had done is moving forestry commission of IBAMA (Brazil’s environmental protection agency) to the Agriculture Ministry, which is run by farm industry allies, which, for a second, is the main contributor to the deforestation in Amazon! The major causes of legal deforestation are cattle ranching (65-70%) and agriculture (25-30%).
This Bolsonaro’s move is equivalent to giving your security alarm code to the burglars yourself.
So why do people support such policies you may rightfully wonder.
Well, the problem is the varying and thus, considered by the masses not reliable deforestation data.
Since Amazon rainforest represents a complete ecosystem, it normally acts as a firefighter to itself, and we have to emphasize “normally” here, since the increased deforestation rates had clearly contributed negatively to forest’s fire-proof capabilities. The rain season in Amazon lasts for most part of the year from November to June. This long-lasting rain season creates high humidity, which causes low visibility from the space. The problem with that is that the deforestation rates are tracked mostly by the satellites. So, as you may have already guessed – low visibility means low quality of data.
And Bolsonaro had certainly used this vulnerability of the system to his advantage. His government is blaming the currently used INPE satellite monitoring system in providing incorrect and over-exaggerated data on the current state of Amazon deforestation. He is claiming (without any evidence) that the real deforestation rates are much lower and planning to replace this system with a new one, that will be backed up by the government and provide more accurate information.
What is being done and can be done to help?
Going back to the news on the forest fires that are burning down the Amazon alive during the past few weeks, with 84% increase in fires in comparison to the last year figures, according to the INPE data. Mr Bolsonaro’s response is: “I am waiting for the next set of numbers, that will not be made up numbers. If they are alarming, I will take notice of them in front of you”, meanwhile 74 thousand fires had been burning in Amazon.
Even since this statement, up until today Mr Bolsonaro had not taken any notice publicly…
So, is this situation in Amazon helpless and the battle for Amazon is already lost?
Indigenous people of Amazon are taking a stand for the humanity, trying to save the land and protesting Bolsenaro’s anti-environmental policies. But this is obviously not enough, and they cannot do it alone. There are several non-profit organizations that support the rainforest, such as Amazon Watch, CASA-Socio-Environmental Fund, Socio-Environmental Institute and Rainforest Concern.
At the moment, they are the only ones who take a visible action to save the lungs of out planet.
Amazon rainforest is undoubtedly vital for our future. It produces 20% of all the oxygen on the planet and stores inside tones of thousands of harmful carbon dioxide gases that is the major cause of global warming. Amazon is home to 10% of all the life species on Earth and 1 m indigenous people. Even since the beginning, the Amazon forest had done only good by us, and what had we done in return? Deforestation, fires, farming, logging… what’s next?
In order to save the Amazon and protect our future, everyone needs to participate in this fight for Amazon. The reality is that many people are not aware of the true tragedy of the situation, and if we help at least to spread the word, this may change the course of the Amazon’s future.
The above article was written and edited by myself for OLLIMONO.