Future in Flames

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Future in Flames

Members of the forest fire brigade fighting the burning of the Amazon in northern Brazil. Photo provided by Gustavo Basso.

Members of the forest fire brigade fighting the burning of the Amazon in northern Brazil. Photo provided by Gustavo Basso.

Members of the forest fire brigade fighting the burning of the Amazon in northern Brazil. Photo provided by Gustavo Basso.

Members of the forest fire brigade fighting the burning of the Amazon in northern Brazil. Photo provided by Gustavo Basso.

Arden Courtney Collins, Reporter

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The Amazon is currently on fire, and we are screwed.

Concern for the fires in the Amazon flared up in August, when hashtags like #PrayforAmazonia trended worldwide. The buzz has since died down, but the Amazon’s situation is still dire.

During the internet buzz, claims about the Amazon being the Earth’s lungs, and it producing 20% of the world’s oxygen, abounded.

These statistics have been quoted by many, even those who should know better like French President Emmanuel Macron. However, this 20% statistic is factually incorrect. Although the 20% statistic is very common, according to the BBC the Amazon only releases around 10% of the world’s oxygen. Most of the oxygen that is released is made by plankton in water, but the Amazon produces 16% of the world’s oxygen produced on land. The oxygen is released by plants via photosynthesis, but around half of that oxygen is absorbed back by plants for respiration and the rest is used by other organisms in the rainforest, thus making the net oxygen produced zero. In summary, the Amazon does release a great deal of important oxygen, but not in the way and to the extent that many believe. 

That is not to say that the Amazon is not an extremely important ecosystem. According to the World Wildlife Fund, all sorts of organisms from the Amazon have been used in medicines, but less than 1% of Amazon’s flowering plants have been studied for potential medicinal use. There is an extremely large amount of plants that can be discovered and used, but only if the rainforest remains intact. The Amazon rainforest also plays a critical role in controlling the surrounding area’s climate. It is a hydrological engine, which is already being damaged by climate change, and the recent Amazon fires are further harming the situation.

The huge amount of CO2 that the rainforest absorbs is now being released back into the atmosphere as a result of people burning the Amazon down. Once it is burned down, that land that once was carbon negative rainforest, it will now release more carbon as it is burned and afterwards, as it is turned into farmland. This is not good news, as CO2 is the main driver for global warming. Some estimates have that curbing, much less altogether stopping, climate change will be impossible without the Amazon. The fires are now irreversibly damaging the rainforest.

Wildfires are not very common in the Amazon, but this year has seen an 84% increase in fires. Over 74,000 fires have been spotted by satellite between January and late August, according to the BBC.

The rainforest is not burning down due to freak wildfires. People are attempting to burn it to the ground. The fires were started by local farmers in Brazil, who were looking to clear the land to sell it or turn it into pastures or farms, according to CNN. These farmers have been emboldened to seize the land by the rhetoric of Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsanaro. Even before he was elected, Bolsonaro promise to utilize the Amazon’s full potential as part of his pro-business stance.

According to CNN, Bolsonaro has attempted to cover up and deflect blame away from the fires. He fired the director of the INPE after the director defended images that showed the true extent of the deforestation. Bolsonaro called it lies and claimed he was protecting Brazil’s image. Bolsanaro even speculated the fires were set by non profit organizations intending to make him and his government look bad because they lack funding. This claim has no evidence to back it up.

Even if Bolsonaro was willing to save the rainforest, the government may not be able to stop the fires. Past attempts to crackdown on the rainforest ‘mafia’ have not been successful  and have been met with strong public opposition, according to CNN.

The Amazon is being permanently damaged. The damaged sections of the rainforest are weakened and susceptible to even more fires. It will take decades for the Amazon to recover. 

The Amazon fires are just another example of humans choosing to destroy and consume for their own profit and pleasure in the short term, not even giving a thought to the well being of others or the future.