Amazon Burning

amazon burning

The lungs of the world are burning. For three weeks, fires have swept the Amazon Rainforest at a sickening pace, blackening the skies above São Paulo like something from the apocalypse. Drought, climate change, arson and Brazil’s new government are all to blame.

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest. Covering an area the size of Australia across nine countries, it is home to 10% of the world’s animal species (many of them endangered) and produces a fifth of our oxygen. 60% is in Brazil. The Amazon’s 400 billion trees absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide and produce most of the Western Hemisphere’s rain. Through transpiration the rainforest releases moisture into the atmosphere, sustaining its own ecosystem and weather patterns. As the rainforest shrinks, less rain falls and temperatures increase. Were it to disappear completely, the Amazon Rainforest would take two million years to regrow.

Despite the good it does the world, money is made from the Amazon’s destruction. Cattle ranches and soybean plantations are more profitable than forest, and there are minerals in the soil. For decades, illegal logging, mining and fires have chipped away at the rainforest’s edge, feeding Brazil’s beef industry, increasing drought and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Lush forests turn to dry savannah and farmland.

bolsonaroBrazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 on a tough-on-crime, anti-corruption platform. An army man, he pines for the dictatorship he once served, when logging was encouraged and the indigenous population fell by half. Bolsonaro and his allies see the Amazon as a resource to be exploited. He claims Brazil owes the world nothing and foreign critics wish only to keep it poor. Since taking power in January, Bolsonaro has slashed environmental regulations and turned a blind eye to illegal logging. Over 70,000 fires now rage, 84% more than 2018.

Aside from its wildlife, the rainforest is home to at least 200 indigenous groups, many uncontacted. In contrast to Brazil’s industrial society, they live with the rainforest, and stand on the front lines against land grabbers and fires. In 2018 Bolsonaro promised to cull federal protection of indigenous land.

South America in Flames: The Amazon Rainforest Is BURNING ...Fires of this scale are unnatural. They were ignited to clear vegetation for farmland on the rainforest’s edge. Normally, the rainforest is too moist for them to spread, but drought and global warming have changed the game. Bolsonaro claimed NGOs started the fires to discredit him, a baseless lie, and only organised a national response when they reached crisis level. Tens of thousands took to South America’s streets demanding action.

French president Emmanuel Macron prioritised an international response in this weekend’s G7 meeting. Bolsonaro insists it remain an internal issue.

20% of Brazil’s rainforest was deforested in the past 50 years. Another 20% would trigger an irreversible feedback loop that would be the Amazon’s end.

Maps of disappearing forests - Business InsiderSources: Associated Press, The Atlantic, The Economist, The Intercept, World Wildlife Fund

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