The World is on Fire, So is the Amazon

Anvi Kasargod, Sports Editor/Reporter

An immense cluster of wildfires have been burning in the Amazon rainforest for the last several weeks, causing monumental environmental damage and pointing towards a larger and more grim global impact. The public has been quick to blame Brazilian Prime Minister, Jair Bolsonaro, for his deforestation policies and exploitation of the rainforest for business purposes. 

It was recently reported by the New York Times that the immense international backlash has led to Bolsonaro’s claim to take a “zero tolerance” approach to the crisis. Since then, Bolsonaro has dispatched the military to put out the fire but has reportedly rejected millions of dollars in aid, provided by the G-7 nations.

Because the Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on the planet, worries about the projected destruction due to the fires have translated to more serious concerns regarding climate change and global warming. 

Although a majority of the Amazon is in Brazil, the forest also stretches over Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It is home to approximately 390 billion trees, more than 16,000 plant species and millions of animal species.   

In addition to its vast biological diversity, the Amazon stores a tremendous amount of carbon in its vegetation and soil. It has been projected that the burning of the Amazon’s vegetation will cause the stored carbon to be released into the atmosphere, rendering efforts to cut down carbon emissions useless. 

Yadvinder Malhi, an ecologist at the University of Oxford in England points out that this significant release of carbon will contribute negatively to global warming and counteract any efforts at limiting climate change through decreased emissions. 

He states, “Any chance of doing that would be blown out of the water.” 

The Amazon also plays a crucial role in stabilizing rainfall cycles in South America. Research by NASA has shown that the transpiration in Amazon trees contributes significantly to the amount of rainfall locally as well as rainfall patterns on a global scale. 

Evidence suggests that a reduction in available trees would hinder overall moisture production, causing drier seasons. This would lead to an increase in Brazilian droughts and could potentially disrupt rainfall patterns as far as Texas. 

There has already been observed delay in the onset of Brazil’s wet season, most likely due to deforestation. The fires will likely add to this growing problem by decreasing the number of trees in the forest and in turn lowering the forest’s overall transpiration rate. 

The recent fires have evidently been caused by deforestation in order to clear land for crops and cattle. Past records from the Global Forest Watch suggest that the number of fires were greater in 2002-05 and 2007, pressuring Brazil to change its policies and reduce deforestation overall. However, despite deforestation rates dropping in 2012, they have spiked up once again following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, who pledged to increase agricultural activity. 

Under Bolsonaro’s administration, forest protections have been weakened as well as the enforcement against illegal logging. Bolsonaro sees the rainforest as a place to develop and implement a series of environment-damaging dams. He initially proposed opening up an ecological reserve for mining and establishing more roads and human settlement in the area. 

However, in the last week, international outrage has surged with European leaders threatening to walk away from trade deals and boycott Brazilian products if action against the fires is not taken. As a result, Bolsonaro was compelled to dispatch the military to deal with the crisis but nevertheless rejected a $22.2 million package from the G-7 that was offered to help fight the fires. Bolsonaro reportedly took offense to French prime minister Emanual Macron’s critical remarks of his environmental decisions, and therefore was adamant about not accepting the money. 

Bolsonaro has also been noted for being a climate change skeptic and accuses the foreign donors of possessing a “colonial mentality,” viewing Brazil as a region to be colonized. Nevertheless, he has been open to support from certain countries and has accepted an offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to send in airplanes and pilots to help contain the fires. 

In addition to the countless plant and animal species being destroyed by the fires, several indigenous tribes are known for living within the depths of the Amazon, and deforestation as well as the recent fires have threatened their way of life. Bolsonaro has proposed to remove the tribes from their legally demarcated territory in order to preserve that land for miners to take advantage of the abundant copper, iron and gold deposits. 

However, tribes such as the Bau and Waiapi have remained strong and resilient, defending their land from incoming miners and illegal loggers. Several indigenous leaders believe that the most effective way to influence preservation policies is to raise their voices and take matters into their own hands. 

As of now, the extent to which the Brazilian government will attempt to contain the fires is uncertain which is why several organizations have stepped in to aid in the fight to combat the fires. 

Some organizations that have taken initiative in fighting the fires include the Amazon Conservation Team, Amazon Conservation Association, Rainforest Trust and Rainforest Foundation. 

The Amazon Conservation Association accepts donations and lists specifically where donors’ money is going. This can include planting trees, sponsoring education, buying a solar panel or preserving indigenous lands. 

Individuals can also donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy rainforest land. This organization has saved over 23 million acres of land since 1988. Finally, the Rainforest Foundation uses donations to support environmental defenders, indigenous advocacy organizations and deforestation monitoring. 

The projected damage that the fires will cause if left undealt with, entail disaster for the rainforest as well as the planet overall. Countless ecosystems, plant and animal species have already been destroyed. Rather than underestimating the scope of the fires and neglecting the issue, urgent action in terms of advocacy and legislation is required in order to prevent future environmental disasters and long lasting damage to the planet. 

On Friday, Sep. 20, Pres

A student holds a microphone and speaks at a climate change rally held at Presentation.
In solidarity with global climate change protests, the SEAS and SPA clubs organized a climate change rally for students to advocate for environmental protections.

students organized and took part in a school wide walkout and rally against climate change. During the rally, SPA and SEAS officers delivered speeches regarding the importance of taking action against climate change and what individuals can do to make a change. This included reusing plastic products, utilizing compost bins, cutting down on meat consumption, and carpooling to school. In addition to talking about small individual actions, the importance of youth lead advocacy was highlighted during the rally. Inspiring words by SEAS officer, Carolina Villa, reflected the importance of persistence during this crisis and empowered students to use their voices to demand change. The SEAS and SPA officers look to organize more climate change events in the future in order to reinforce the importance of the issue.