When it was reported that large plumes of charcoal-colored smoke were floating upward from Brazil and could be seen from outer space, I thought, “Oh, that’s too bad. I didn’t know that the Amazon rainforest suffered the same plight that California and some of our western states suffer.”
It took a full month for the severity of the situation to register with my lame brain. (The fires became readily visible at the beginning of August.) The Amazon rainforest generates over 20 percent of our world’s oxygen. So, this is not Brazil’s problem alone. In fact, the Amazon is known as the “lungs of the planet.” Thus, the Amazon’s role in balancing the climate, and everything else, from farming to drinking water, is critical. Scientists predict that loss of the rainforest — at the current rate — could “degrade it into a dry savannah.”
It is normal for the Amazon to suffer wildfires during its dry season — from the end of July through November. However, this year there are, “...more than 72,000 fires across the country, with more than half of those occurring in the Amazon. That’s an 84 percent increase from the same period last year.” — Fortune, Aug. 25. The same Fortune article reported, “Droughts caused both by climate change and deforestation are also part of the problem, according to Greenpeace. The forest fires are contributing to higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global temperatures rising. As these temperatures rise, major droughts (will) become more frequent and can extend the forest’s dry season.”
So, it was startling to learn that, unlike most of the forest fires in our western states, the rainforest fires were not accidental. Brazil’s fires were intentional — set by humans.
“The farming industry and international trade relationships are the main drivers of deforestation, more than 75 percent of which is caused by cattle ranching and soy production, according to a report from the NGO Amazon Watch. Soy beans and beef, two of Brazil’s main exports, are ‘forest-risk commodities’ and most of it is going to China, the European Union, and the United States.” — Fortune, Aug. 25. On Jan. 1, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office and in an effort to fulfill campaign promises, he “...has repeatedly rolled back environmental protections, cutting the staffing of both environmental and indigenous rights agencies.” — Fortune, Aug. 25. President Bolsonaro proclaims, repeatedly, that he is focused on economic development for his poor and struggling nation. Bolsonaro said he believes that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by wealthy nations of the Northern Hemisphere. In addition, he has displayed a total lack of concern for the indigenous tribes of the rainforest. Aljazeera in an Aug. 23 article, quoted Christian Poirier, program director of the non-profit organization Amazon Watch:
“The potential is here for not just environmental devastation, but also cultural genocide,” Poirier explained.
“Indigenous people are on the frontline of this struggle — the work they do to protect the forest is so vital and their connection to the forest is so important to their cultures,” Poirier noted.
“In addition to the human presence within the Amazon, the forest also houses 10 percent of all known wildlife species, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), with a ‘new’ species of animal or plant discovered in the rainforest every three days on average. — Aljazeera, Aug. 23. It is possible that Brazil’s President truly believes that economic development is critical for his nation. Certainly, Brazil needs its economy improved.
However, given that Brazil is home to most of the Amazon’s rainforest, it is critical that Brazil’s leaders consider both the nation’s economy as well as one of its greatest resources — the rainforests. President Bolsonaro in his intense efforts to build Brazil into a world-class economy may unwittingly seal the fate of the entire world.
CNN in an Aug. 24 report, presented a frightening diagnosis. “Since the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, (known as ‘INPE’) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region. This means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed every minute of every day, INPE has stated.”
Just prior to the Group of Seven Summit, in France, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Aug. 22.
“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency, first order...”
President Macron is not over-reacting. He is not exaggerating. Indeed, if the Amazon serves as our planet’s lungs, it is critical that we help Brazil and the other South American countries save our world’s respiratory system. Certainly, the G7’s recent pledge to contribute $20 million dollars to help stave off the destruction of the rainforest provides a start. Hopefully, the seven nations figure out more ways to help the countries who are stuck — by virtue of location — with maintaining the Amazon. Also, it would be most beneficial if, instead of accusing the G7 of behaving like imperialists and of treating Brazil like a colony, Brazil’s president ask for help. It would also help if President Bolsonaro accepted the G7’s $20 million offer. There is some question as to whether Bolsonaro will take the money. As of Aug. 24, President Bolsonaro sent military troops into the Amazon, presumably to help rein in the raging fires. Hopefully that is not just a token gesture on President Bolsonaro’s part.
Unfortunately, some activists, in their zeal to spread the word regarding the devastating loss of the Amazon rainforest, have publicized fake photos. Instead of helping us prevent the loss of rainforests, fake photographs only distract from the seriousness of the loss and, thus, cause others to doubt the severity of the actual situation.
Definitely Brazil has an enormous task. The world’s survival depends on Brazil’s success. Given the importance of the job and the fact that all of humankind stands to benefit or to lose, there is no shame in Brazil accepting help — even requesting help. This is a crisis that can — and likely will — have world-wide impact. It is a crisis that requires a collaboration of nations in order to succeed.