Updated: Jan 14
The Amazon rain forest, often called the “lungs of the world,” is one of the planet’s largest and most important ecosystems. Spanning over 40% of South America, the rain forest provides a great deal of our atmosphere’s oxygen—more than ⅕. Due to its significant role in oxygenating the earth, as well as its high levels of primary productivity, this rain forest impacts all of us around the world on a daily basis. At this very moment however, this vital resource is in peril, overtaken by raging fires that will have repercussions for the entire globe if they continue.
Although it is natural for certain biomass, such as North American grasslands, to have periodic wildfires, the fires in the Amazon have one major root cause: human land use. Both the logging and cattle-ranching industries depend on burning forested areas to use the then cleared land for the purposes of either planting the desired trees, or raising the desired cattle, for profit. While this method of deforestation has been practiced for years now, rarely have the fires raged so entirely out of control; by the night of Sunday, August 25th, over 80,000 fires were estimated to have been burning.
What makes these fires so dangerous is that as they overtake and dry out more and more of the rainforest canopy, depleting it of its naturally high moisture content, the more prone the forest becomes to continuing to burn; it’s a vicious positive feedback loop. As it is, these fires are already so extensive that images taken by NASA show that the massive amounts of smoke clouding over the South American continent can now be seen from space. Moreover, at the rate that these uncontrollable blazes are currently clearing the rainforest, analysts fear that a tipping point of irreparable damage is nearing. If any further blazes begin, it’s unclear if any form of human intervention will be enough to keep the entire Amazon rainforest ecosystem from collapsing.
(Satellite images of the smoke gathering about the Amazon. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens)
Concern about the Amazon stretches far and wide, with leaders around the globe pledging millions of dollars in funding and offering whatever assistance might be necessary to fight the fires. The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela has also suggested that a meeting be held among the Foreign Ministers of ACTO this Friday, August 30th, so as to determine what actions must be taken to halt the devastation. However, it’s not just global leaders that are taking action—people from around the world have begun criticizing Brazilian President Bolsonaro for his role in encouraging logging and farming in the rainforest, pointing to the fact that under his presidency, deforestation rates have increased significantly. People have even taken to social media to arrange protests, with hashtags such as #ActForTheAmazon and #AmazonRainforest now trending on Twitter, and demonstrations occurring in Paris, London, and Madrid, just to name a few.
If you are wondering what you can do, there are several actions to consider taking. For one, there are various organizations that are now accepting donations, such as the Rainforest Action Network, which works to protect acres of land in this region. You can also take action by making changes to your daily life, such as by using Ecosia instead of Google as your default search engine, reducing your paper and wood consumption, or contacting your elected officials and encouraging them to take action. Though it may seem difficult to imagine, remember that your choices and your voice have power; with the involvement of millions of individuals like you, there might be a chance to save the Amazon before it’s too late.
Brown, Shelby. “The Amazon Rainforest Is on Fire: What We Know and How You Can Help.” CNET, 26 Aug. 2019, www.cnet.com/how-to/amazon-rainforest-fire-whats-happening-now-and-how-you-can-help-update-g7/.
Darby, Luke. “Why the Amazon Rainforest Fires Could Be Disastrous for Climate Change.” GQ, GQ, 22 Aug. 2019, www.gq.com/story/why-the-amazon-is-burning. Accessed 28 Aug. 2019.
Grajales Diez, Laura. “Amazon Nariño Port Amazon Rainforest.” Needpix.com, www.needpix.com/photo/download/963838/amazon-narino-port-amazon-rainforest-colombia-landscape-free-pictures-free-photos-free-images-royalty-free.
Scutti, Susan. “Here’s What We Know about the Fires in the Amazon Rainforest.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Aug. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/08/23/americas/amazon-wildfires-411/index.html.
Stevens, Joshua. “NASA Earth Observatory.” NASA Earth Observatory, NASA, 19 Aug. 2019, www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145498/uptick-in-amazon-fire-activity-in-2019.Walsh, Nick Paton, and Natalie Gallón. “Flying above the Amazon Fires, ‘All You Can See Is Death’.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Aug. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/08/25/americas/amazon-fire-efforts-damage/index.html.
Featured Image: Image of the Rainforest before the fires began. Image credit: Grajales Diez, Laura. “Amazon Nariño Port Amazon Rainforest.”
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