So, the Amazon forest has been on fire for the past couple of weeks and nothing of substance has been done to put out the Amazon fires and save the world’s largest tropical rainforest. You’ve probably seen how sluggish the Brazilian government has been and how fast the news has moved down the priority list in the CNN and Fox News bulletins.
Amazon fires are a big deal!
The UN’s zeal to come to the rescue of the “earth’s lungs” has been questionable and the ordinary population has been unconsciously lulled into believing there is not much at stake or that we would lose more than we would gain trying to save the forest.
Well, this should be a no-brainer. Trees take in CO₂ and release oxygen, which we survive on. Without a single tree on earth, carbon dioxide would accumulate to toxic levels and jeopardize the very existence of the millions of animal species that call this planet home. It would be the beginning of the end of life on earth as we know it
Of course, trees make up for a measly 1/3 of the overall oxygen supply in our atmosphere with the bulk of it coming from phytoplankton and algae in the ocean, but this seemingly negligible dip would still take a massive toll on the higher animals, humans included. Believe it or not, the oceans and all the animal and plant species they house all depend on trees for survival.
We would start experiencing extinctions in as little as 50 years. Flooding, hurricanes, erosions, and landslides would become commonplace and some areas, particularly the lowlands, would become near-uninhabitable. Sediment deposits in water bodies would be detrimental to lake wildlife and one important source of food for humans will go down the drain with it.
Any species that survives it all will face an extremely reduced lifespan, and the high toxicity in the air and water would make life on earth an utter living death. We would also have to do without rubber, paper, beer and host of other products that are extracted from trees. And, don’t even get us started on the aesthetic impact of such a catastrophic event on the planet.
The Amazon rainforest has an estimated 400 billion trees – little over ten percent of the world’s tree population. What makes it so important? What would happen if we lost it or even just half of it?
There are animals that can only be found in the Amazon Rainforest
Over 2,000 species of animals call the Amazon rainforest home. These include jaguars, macaws, sloths, poison dart frogs, glass frogs, river dolphins, and anacondas. A whopping tenth of all known species can be found in the rainforest, and that is certainly nothing to sniff at.
But, did you know that there are species that live only in the Amazon Rainforest? Yes, some animals have never been sighted outside the Amazon and inability to adapt to other environments could have something to do with it. Popular examples include the sloth, the electric eel, the amazon pink river dolphin, the Amazonian manatee, and the toucan. That’s just a fraction of what we would lose if the Amazon disappeared today, given that 400 new species of animals have been discovered in the ecosystem over the past one decade only.
80 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are stored in the Amazon Rainforest
Global warming may not be a theory you believe in, but just in case it is true, then the rainforest is partly to thank for the fact that we haven’t crossed the Rubicon yet. A third of the world’s carbon stores are in the Amazon and loss of even half the forest would immediately make global warming a global problem.
300 indigenous tribes rely entirely on the Amazon for food and shelter
There are suspicions that the recent Amazon fires were started by crop and animal farmers looking for more land for Soybean farming and grazing. If this is true, then the farmers must have been oblivious of the science that the Amazon is a self-sustaining ecosystem that would take the favorable climate with it if it had to go.
The Amazon Rainforest experiences heavy rains for the better part of the year, and this is not a mere coincidence or accident. It is a concoction of chicken-and-egg and catch-22 situations, whereby there wouldn’t be as much rain in the Amazon basin were it not for the rainforest, and the forest wouldn’t be there were it not for the heavy rains in the region. While looking to harness the favorable climate, humans are killing the very reason the climate is there in the first place.
If we surpass a certain threshold, this orchestra of self-sustenance will likely fall out of tune. There will not be enough trees to absorb moisture from the ground and evaporate it into the atmosphere for rain formation, and this would be the beginning of the end. Without sufficient rainfall, there would be a fierce competition among the vegetation and animals for the reduced water availability, and the less adaptable species will be forced to bow out. The rainforest will gradually move from dense woodland to a sparse savannah, in a scenario called a forest dieback. The Amazon tribes will have to adapt to the drastic changes or be forced to migrate to more hospitable places, which will not come without short and long-term consequences.
But this is not the first fire incident in the Amazon
This is certainly not the first time the Amazon is rocked by thousands of wildfires at around this time of the year. This year’s fires started early in August, coinciding with the start of the dry season in the Amazon basin. Towards the end of the month, there were already 156,000 fires in the rainforest and this rapid surge is what captured the international community’s attention. There hasn’t been a worse case of wildfires in the rainforest since 2010. The highest Amazon fire numbers this century were recorded back in 2001, between 2002 and 2005, and in 2007.
The Brazil government, with a little pressure from the west and donations from countries such as Germany and Norway managed to enforce new policies that were aimed at preventing runaway deforestation in parts of the Amazon. The most notable actions were taken in 2004 and 2012, with counties that did little to reduce deforestation receiving heavy penalties. The effort seemed to work, albeit deforestation and wildfires continued to eat up the rainforest at an alarming rate of about one football pitch every hour. The recent fires have sped that up many times over and the international community for the umpteenth time has had to offer financial aid to Brazil – the most affected nation – to extinguish the fires.
But, the question is, why is the world so worried about something that has happened time and again in the past? There are several plausible explanations to this. Firstly, we are in the middle of the catastrophe. The Amazon fires are spreading fast and there is potential of beating all previous records if the Brazilian troops don’t put the fires out, and fast. Secondly, the Amazon is significantly smaller now. Since the early 2000’s, the Amazon has lost as much as 200,000 hectares of forest, which is the equivalent of around 6 percent of the Amazon of the 1970’s. Any fire right now definitely has a far larger impact than a fire of its size 15-20 years ago as it eats up a bigger portion of the rainforest.
Experts also believe internet and social media accessibility has contributed to the 2019 fires being more publicized. Indeed most people have only learned about the fires on Twitter and Facebook, something that may have not been possible in the previous decade.
You can also not overlook the fact that there has been a lot of global warming and climate change sensitization talks on television and platforms such as YouTube lately, which have undoubtedly made more people echo-conscious.
Additionally, being an ongoing issue and still fresh on our minds, the tendency to think and feel that the incident has been publicized a lot more than preceding crises of equal magnitude is expected.
With so much on the line, there is more to worry about the Amazon fires than the cause of it and why there is such a big fuss about it this year. The planet’s lungs are on fire, that’s the bottom line. The 3-million-square-kilometer green land is at the very center of our plans to decelerate global warming and put the future of our species and that of millions of other species back in our control.
Nothing can justify sitting back and watching as it goes down on a free fall. Not the costs, not the cause, and certainly not the political and diplomatic relations between the host countries and the rest of the world. In one way or another, we are all going to be affected and held liable for the far-reaching impacts by the future generations.