Amazon Fire

We’ve almost done it all – structures and skyscrapers visible from outer space, the nanosecond accessibility to information, and even journeys beyond the moon. We’re well and above the rest of planet’s dwellers, or so we think. Why does it seem like with every breakthrough, a part of this planet dies? And try as we might, with all the fancy technology available to us now, we can’t seem to replicate it right (much less care for it) – life, that is. We may have the cloning concept figured out, but the earth is warming up at an alarming rate. Glaciers, intact for millions of years, are melting, and sea levels are rising. We’re losing species after species, and sooner or later we might not have enough clean air left to breathe. The overwhelming issues at hand should be enough to send all civilized society at work, but how is it that no one has talked much about the fires still ravaging the Amazon rainforest? Tracing back, the information first circulated on social media; environmental activists stopped at nothing to let the world know. As it gathered hundreds of thousands of reposts, only then did it garner the media coverage it deserved. Unfortunately, the attention given to the Amazon fire could not rival that of Notre Dame. The whole world lamented over the man-made wonder’s destruction, but a rainforest on fire almost got a rain check. News outlets accurately point out that the Amazon fires have been burning for weeks before the viral tweets even bombarded the cyberspace. A fire bringing that much damage should have warranted rescue teams from every corner available; while fire is a powerful force we almost have no chance against, any attempt to tame the spread of flames should have been carried out urgently. 

The Amazon fires, courtesy of Elardo Peres.

The Glory of The Amazonian Kingdom

The Amazon rainforest plays a significant role in the climate, both global and regional. The rains it produces does not happen by mere chance of geography or meteorology. The great kapok, mahogany, and Brazil nut trees local to the Amazon play parts in the region’s water system orchestra. These trees absorb rainwater in their roots, travelling it up into the canopy to be released into the air. Along with rainwater, the trees also release organic compounds that take form in tiny particles. These particles are just as important, as they are responsible for cloud formation and more production of rainfall. This process, multiplied by hundreds of billions of trees living in the Amazon rainforest, means that a powerful mechanism is at play, one that recycles water for rainfall and quenches the thirst of every single tree in the tropical weather. In terms of human benefits, the pattern sustains Brazil’s agriculture industry and keeps reservoirs topped up to feed and hydrate millions of city dwellers.

In addition to this, the Amazon rainforest accounts for more than half of the earth’s remaining rainforests. It’s also home to more than half of the world’s species of animals and plants. The mere thought of the consequences of its total destruction should weigh more than new skyscrapers and living arrangements.

Repercussions

Data gathered from the past 50 years by the World Wildlife Fund reveals that 17% of the Amazon rainforest have already been lost. INPE Brazil reports that deforestation is the leading cause, which surged to a whopping 88.4% in June. The currently burning forest area will add to that growing number of total deforestations. The great trees are rapidly disappearing, and along with them are the grasses, shrubs, soil bacteria, and fungi that work together to disseminate moisture. Roughly a size of a soccer field is lost every minute. When the Amazon rainforest loses a specific amount of area, the orchestra falls out of tune. The tropical woodlands are vital to the system of rainfall, and without the evaporation and condensation, the rest of the rainforest will not be getting enough water. This works in a domino effect – the flora will weaken and circulate less moisture in the atmosphere, which would then slow down the production of rainfall. The parched trees become vulnerable to fire and pests, and the rest of the Amazon rainforest will shrivel up to death, slowly turning into a savanna. The fauna, too, suffers greatly. Without any means to adapt to fire, many species burn alive or barely escape with extensive damages. Those species who find refuge in trees become displaced, and the well-connected food chain with which the Amazon rainforest operates is disrupted.

The Amazon is also an enormous reservoir of carbon. As it degrades due to the combination of climate change and deforestation, its function will switch from absorbing carbon dioxide to emanating those heat-trapping gases. For a planet already touching peak heat wave phenomena, the effect could mean imminent obliteration. The Amazon rainforest is said to contain carbon, which is estimated to be over 90 billion metric tons, embedded deep in its soils. There has already been a decline in the amount of carbon it soaks up – if the burning continues, the switch will definitely flip to the other direction. An entire decade’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions will be released, and all efforts done to curb climate change will have been for nothing. If enough of the rainforest will be lost, reduced into nothing but embers, the earth could enter into a spiral of collapse – the consequences will be felt globally.

More Than Just Mere Coincidence?

The Amazon fires have triggered an outrage among the public. However, the crossfires seem to be targeted towards each other. Fingers point to the meat lovers, plastic hoarders, and straw users. The other party points out that individual environmentalism is a ploy, and that there’s more to the issue at hand. There are things we can do, yes, but we’re forgetting that mere banning of straws and the choice of a sustainable life are not enough to save the world. While a green revolution is admirable, there are mightier forces present in the game. Some leaked documents have revealed that the Brazilian president himself is guilty of devastating the Amazon rainforest. Perhaps the real villains in this narrative are the power-hungry. It’s their exploits that continue to pollute oceans and their business deals that ravage lands, no matter how hard we try to live more sustainably. Such is the case with President Jair Bolsonaro, and his supposed complicity in the spreading of fire in the Amazon rainforest. 

President Trump and President Bolsonaro in a summit.

Tension already stirred mere months after Bolsonaro took office, as deforestation rates have increased sharply. It is reported that 2,000 square miles of forest have already been leveled this year alone. The Brazilian president openly expressed against the protection for indigenous land, shifting focus to the country’s economy.  Previously protected lands are now open to commercial development, and those who seize and clear forests will be under the protection of lax enforcements of laws. Reports on deforestation made by his own government are dismissed by him as mere lies. Now, documents circulate online, explicitly showing that President Bolsonaro argues for a strong government presence in the Amazon region to prevent further conservation projects.

There were plans to build motorways, bridges, and even a hydroelectric plant in the Amazon rainforest to further protect the Amazon. Documents leaked included PowerPoint presentations, which are believed to have been used in a meeting between Brazilian government officials and local leaders from the Para state. Now, however, the efforts have been disrupted due to the sudden hail of fires currently raging through the Amazon. Even as soccer field size of lands are lost every minute, Bolsonaro on August 22 stated that his government lacked the resources to extinguish the fire, which enraged environmental groups. Following the claim, his paucity of regard for the protection of the environment was further highlighted when he initially rejected an offer of twenty million dollars from international aid, collected to help quell the Amazon fires. The funding was born out of the annual G-7 summit, attended by the world’s largest seats of democracy. President Emmanuel Macron of France insisted that battling the fires should be utmost priority, and when Bolsonaro rejected the aid, the two leaders plunged into an ongoing feud of trading insults. Bolsonaro then claims that he would consider accepting the aid if President Macron apologizes. 

Ibama, Brazil’s main environmental agency, states that their mission has staggered as a result of budget cuts, staff reduction, political red tape, and the weakening of regulations protecting the environment. Many of the employees express contempt in a letter they have written, stating that Bolsonaro and the factors at hand cannot be separated. Just this month, over 27,400 fires have been detected in the Amazon rainforest. Fire activities usually occur annually as farmers clear land for crops, but this year’s fire season is especially intense, calling for a global concern – the fate of the Amazon rainforest is at stake.

If any of these accusations are true, then the surprise factor won’t be playing. Afterall, the scenario isn’t new, as all over the world the elite try grab hold of what they can to expand their kingdoms of profit. And as long as there are lands thriving, this exploit certainly won’t be the last.

What happens now?

After a string of protests emerged from around the world, from Brazil all the way to London, the government has been forced to finally step in. Bolsonaro has sent military planes to dump water on the blazes, while a supertanker plane carrying 17,000 gallons of water continues to circle around the forest every hour.

As experts continue to strongly emphasize the nigh end of civilization if we don’t act now, the Global Witness report postulates that governments have, so far, failed to react and listen well as they should be doing. Meanwhile, industries continue to thrive in a model that never ceases to address the problem. The enemy is us, truly, and no matter how discouraging, the solution is also us. To counter our plunge to our end as we know it, the fight for Mother Earth continues. And we’ll keep pounding on their gilded caves, as perhaps one day they’ll realize those minerals they keep collecting won’t be saving them.   

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