Violent Assault on Amazon Rainforest.
The Amazon rainforest is huge, complex, and on fire.
The Amazon rainforest covers 2,100,000 square miles, or 5,500,00km². Around 60% of the rainforest falls within Brazil, with the rest of the forest falling under Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
By now you’ve probably heard the statistic – 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen is produced here. It behaves similarly to a pair of human lungs, absorbing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen.Satellite images showed that at one point since the fires started, there were 9507 fires raging. According to National Geographic, the Amazon has already lost around 17 percent over the past 50 years. The full devastation of these fires won’t be known until they can be stopped.
There have been more than 74,000 fires so far this year, the most ever recorded by the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The concern is that we are seeing 85% uptake in the number of fires this year compared to 2018. More than half of those fires are taking place in the Brazilian Amazonia.
Who is responsible?
These fires are the result of massive deforestation that marks the policy of Brazil’s hard-right president Jair Bolsonaro whose victory set off alarm bells back in October 2018 among indigenous communities and environmentalists over the fate of the Amazon rainforest.
Following Bolsonaro’s election, Scott Mainwaring, a Brazil expert at Harvard University’s Kennedy School commented, “Bolsonaro has a very strong anti-environmental discourse, and I have zero doubt that his discourse will direct policy. I don’t see that this government is going to want to tell landowners not to chop down this part of the forest because it’s on indigenous land. It doesn’t seem there will be any major effort to protect the Amazon.”
Hours after taking office, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.
The explosion in deforestation and burning rates recorded in 2019 is a consequence of the “free pass” given by the Bolsonaro government for illegal logging, and for the expansion of agriculture and mining. Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development.
The tragedy of all of this is that for over a decade, Brazil was the world’s leader in stopping deforestation. IBAMA ,the agency that cracks down on those destroying the forest, functioned as a sort of elite environmental commando unit, choppering into cleared land where, by law, they were empowered to seize tractors and bulldozers, or torch them so they couldn’t be used again.
Now, FUNAI, the government agency charged with protecting indigenous land, has had its budget cut in half, and IBAMA, the agency that cracks down on those destroying the forest, have been stripped of power and resources and barely able to function in some places.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has insulted adversaries and allies, disparaged women, blacks and homosexuals, and even praised his country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. Yet nothing has rallied more anger at home and criticism from abroad than his response to fires raging in parts of the Amazon region.
The far-right populist leader initially dismissed the hundreds of blazes and then questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the credibility of his government. In response, European leaders threatened to block a major trade deal with Brazil that would benefit the very agricultural interests accused of driving deforestation.
The lung of forest is vital for our planet.
– Pope Francis
The leaders of the Group of Seven nations announced Monday they have agreed to an immediate $20 million fund to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest.
When Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, said, “our house is burning” and urged the G7 to prioritize the crisis, Bolsonaro brushed him back as a colonialist, ruled out accepting a G7 offer of aid worth $22m to fight fires in the Amazon rainforest, accusing foreign powers of wanting control of the Amazon.
“Of course [this is] Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question,” Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, said Sunday. “The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions.”
Meanwhile, thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and outside Brazilian embassies around the world. #PrayforAmazonia became a worldwide trending topic. Pope Francis added his voice to the chorus of concern, warning that the “lung of forest is vital for our planet.”
“No [Brazilian] democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through,” said Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “By breaching international environmental agreements, Brazil has been discredited, blurred and unable to exercise any type of leadership on the international stage.”
Jair Bolsonaro also demonstrated his personal side by endorsing a Facebook post insulting Emanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte. Macron responded: “It’s sad. First for him and for the Brazilians…I think that Brazilians, who are a great people, will probably be ashamed to see this behavior. As I feel friendship and respect towards the Brazilian people, I hope that they will soon have a president who behaves properly.”
“Thousands of species of plants and animals are being killed, many of them that we don’t even know. The population of nearby cities is suffering terrible damage because they’re breathing that air and it’s causing them respiratory problems. And the rise in deforestation can completely alter the rain patterns by region and devastate agriculture, even in South America,” said Rómulo Batista, a member of Greenpeace Brazil’s Amazonia Campaign.
Bolsonaro finally took a less confrontational approach Friday and announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the blazes, which mostly seem to be charring land deforested, perhaps illegally, for farming and ranching rather than burning through stands of trees. Some say it’s not enough and comes too late.
Brazilian military planes began dumping water on fires in the Amazon state of Rondonia over the weekend, and a few hundred of the promised troops deployed into the fire zone. But many Brazilians again took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday to demand the administration do more. Some held banners that read: “Bol$onaro is burning our future.”
Wednesday August 28th, the Brazilian president announced that Brazil has accepted the offer from Chile to send four aircraft to help curb the fire in the Amazon rainforest, saying that a meeting will be held with regional neighbors on September 6th.
Amazon Rainforest fire impact felt around the globe
Dr. Melinda Coogan, a professor of environmental science at Baylor, described the impact of the fires as a “quadruple-whammy.” Trees that would normally absorb carbon dioxide and release cooling moisture are now burning, spewing pollutants into the air. Coogan said environmental issues like the Amazon fires should concern even those thousands of miles away from the blaze since the cost of climate change is shared by everyone.
“We talk about these areas sort of as global commons areas,” Dr. King, a professor of environmental law at Baylor, said. “Biodiversity is really increasingly thought of as one of the resources that we all share… species don’t know any political boundaries.”
“Scientists are indicating that we have about 11 years to drastically turn things around— that was before all this burning started. This is going to accelerate that… I see that getting a little bit shorter,” Coogan said. “I wish it would stop… there are solutions— I think that’s the thing that frustrates me.”