Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably well aware by now that our lungs are on fire. The Amazon has been burning for weeks now and with the power of social media, and in particular Instagram, we all finally know about it. So, how did this all start?
The Amazon rainforest is situated in the north of South America. With supplies of fresh water and 10% of the world’s biodiversity, it is a tropical haven for many unique animals and ecosystems. The Amazon contains thousands of tree species, 50,000 species of plants, and hundreds of insects. As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon also plays a major ecological service to our planet: it essentially cleans our air. We all learnt that in school, right? Carbon dioxide goes in, oxygen comes out.
Despite trees operating as a natural filtration system, humankind tends to clear them. One of the main reasons the Amazon started burning was due to deforestation. Despite efforts to preserve the rainforest, much of its land is still being cleared for agricultural activity. Farmers and ranchers set alight previously cleared land to kill off excess vegetation. Land that is in the process of being cleared is also burned to speed up the process. Essentially, this is to make room for cows, crops and other vegetation. As Brazil is a major exporter of soybeans, crude oil, chicken and meat, much land is needed.
Even though the fires seem bad (and they are), they are nowhere near as bad as the fires recorded prior to and in 2010. In the peak of deforestation 10,000 square miles were cleared, and in 2007 and 2010, during the El Nino which brought on harsh droughts, there were around 600,000 fires burned.
Thankfully, regulations were implemented to curb deforestation and illegal fire activity. However, since the election of the newly appointed President, Jair Bolsonaro, the tightened reins have begun to slip. Protections in place for forests and the enforcement of laws surrounding illegal logging have weakened. This is probably the most concerning aspect of these fires: the potential for more in the near future.
Jair Bolsonaro, the newly appointed Brazillian President.
Already, satellite images can show us that the fires burning today match up with the trees felled earlier in the year. Who knows how much more land will be cleared this year, and how many fires will ensue next dry season.
These fires are also exacerbated by the harsh conditions of the dry season, taking place over June to December. Dried vegetation spreads fire faster. If the situation wasn’t as bad as it seems already, there’s also a projected tipping point to all of this destruction.
Scientists predict that even a small rise in deforestation could mean the lush, dense rainforest transitioning into a woodland savanna (think Aussie outback – sparse trees and bush). Despite the Amazon containing some very scary wildlife which many of us don’t particularly care for (Anacondas, Piranhas…etc), this is concerning. On top of that, sparse forests don’t have the same capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide. Therefore, more toxic gases will be emitted into the atmosphere, and we all know what happens from there.
One of the reasons why this story has spread like… wildfire (for lack of a better metaphor) on social media, is due to the absence of it’s reportage in mainstream media. Before major media channels picked this story up, Instagram users were sharing images and posts to spread awareness. We can all speculate why such an important story wouldn’t be reported, but there isn’t a clear reason as to why, for now.
This has, however, led to criticism as to why the largest rainforest in the world wouldn’t get the same recognition as a burning cathedral (Notre Dame).