Burn, Baby, Burn — Rain Forest Inferno

The Amazon is hot right now, and I’m not talking about popularity. The world’s largest rain forest is literally hot as an unbelievable amount of fires are raging there. Burn, baby, burn. It’s a rain forest inferno! So vast are these blazes that NASA was able to capture images of Amazonian forest fire plumes from space. What’s going on and how does it affect you? The answers are surprising and very scary.

First of all, why are fires burning in a rain forest? Isn’t that a rather wet place where a fire would be unlikely to start? Fires are indeed rare in the Amazon most of the year because moisture keeps them down. July and August bring the dry season, and fires consequently increase during this time.

Fires this summer, though, are off the charts. Approximately 73.000 fires have been detected by Brazil’s space research center, INPE. The resulting smoke has drifted about 1,700 miles away and darkened the skies in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, during daylight hours. NASA has pictures of a resulting smoke layer from the fires more than 3.2 million square kilometers.  Holy smoke! The Brazilian state of Amazonas has even declared an emergency because of the fires.

It must be an extremely dry year for all these fires to be burning, right? Nope. The weather is normal this year, so Mother Nature isn’t the culprit for starting all these blazes. Who is? HUMANS. And these are not accidental fires, they are deliberately set. Humans are causing these fires by utilizing slash and burn tactics to clear land for farming and pasture.

Satellite images show an increase in deforestation in the Amazon during May, June, and July. Trees are being pulled down and then later burned after they have dried. Scientists have confirmed that the fires are linked to deforestation because the areas ablaze line up with areas of prior land clearing. The fact that such big columns of smoke are being produced, indicates enormous piles of wood are being burned. Scientists have basically concluded that where there’s lots of smoke there’s big fires as a result of deforestation.

And big fires are the result of BIG deforestation. The latest reported figures show deforestation increased in the Amazon area by 88% in June compared to the same period last year. By some estimates, more than a soccer field’s worth of the Amazon rain forest is being felled every MINUTE. Ain’t that a kick in the environment’s face?

Why such enormous land clearing? Blame the cows! Cattle ranching is the biggest reason behind deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation. Where’s the beef? Well about 200 million head of cattle are in the Amazon area of Brazil. Brazil is the largest cattle exporter in the world; it supplies 1/4 of the global market. And those cattle have to go somewhere. They can’t climb trees, so the rain forest trees are being cut down to accommodate cattle. Hmm! Maybe if we ate more chicken like the Chick-Fil-A cow urges, less deforestation would occur…

But cattle can’t take all the blame. Old MacDonald is guilty as well. Thousands of acres of Amazonian rain forest are being cleared at a time to benefit large-scale agriculture. Brazil also exports large amounts of soybeans. Given the current trade war between China and the U.S., China is turning to Brazil as an alternate source of soybeans.

And is Brazil’s government simply allowing all this deforestation to occur? Pretty much. The country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office January 1, 2019, is known for his anti-environmental rhetoric. He has indicated he does not intend to go after farmers, loggers, and miners who take and clear forests.

Not only is Bolsonaro looking the other way when it comes to deforestation, he is actually encouraging it to bolster Brazil’s economy. The Brazilian president has been accused of harming the Amazon’s environment to benefit the loggers, farmers, and miners who helped get him elected. When the head of Brazil’s IPNE agency reported the 88% increase in deforestation from the past year, he was promptly fired. Bolsonaro stated that these deforestation figures were “lies.”

The Amazon rain forest fires have caused an international outcry and were a hot topic at the recent G7 Summit in France. French president Emmanuel Macron described these fires as an international crisis and squarely put the blame on the Brazilian president. He characterized the situation as an emergency which should be addressed at the G7 Summit because the Amazon rain forest, known as the plane’ts lungs, produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.

Macron’s comments brought the Amazon fires to the attention of many in the world who were not aware they were occurring. Due to the resulting international pressure that more action be taken, Brazil deployed its army to tackle the fires.

While the loss of rain forest land due to fire is regrettable, why is it a crisis and why should we be concerned? One of the main tenets of global climate policy is to curb deforestation.Such action is seen as vital to slowing global warming. Specifically, carbon stores in the rain forest serve to slow global warming.

As a result of the ongoing fires, millions of tons of carbon dioxide is being spewed into the air daily. The Amazon is a key part of Earth’s climate system because it absorbs about 5% of the carbon dioxide emitted. Less rain forest means more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Damage to the Amazon isn’t cool because it could reduce the forest’s cooling effects. Tropical rain forests are like giant air conditioners for the local area and the world. Water evaporating from tree leaves removes heat from the atmosphere reducing the temperature..

A rain forest is also a rain factory. It generates rain to help crops grow. If land is cleared, you may be able to grow more crops, but will there be a successful harvest if there’s not enough rain to grow the crops?

The long-term outlook is extremely concerning. The Amazon has already been deforested by 15% of its original state. Scientists worry that a tipping point will be reached when the deforestation hits 25%. What happens when the tipping point is hit? There will not be enough trees recycling water, and the Amazon will degrade into dry grassland.

A rain forest is a magical place because it is lush, green, and wet. It produces oxygen for us to breath, absorbs carbon dioxide, generates rain to grow crops, and produces cooling effects. But it we abuse the forest by clearing too many trees, the magic will be lost. Brazil, and in fact all inhabitants of planet Earth, need to be nice to Mother Nature, and ultimately to ourselves, by ensuring rain forests are protected. If there has to be an inferno, let it be a disco inferno. Burn, baby, burn!

JUST WONDER-ing:

Is it nice to fool with Mother Nature by allowing rampant deforestation? Have you considered how the environmental policies of other countries may ultimately impact you by affecting the world as a whole? Is a government being responsible if deforestation is allowed to occur unchecked? Is is short-sighted?

 

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