Amazon Rainforest Fires
The Amazon is the worlds largest Rainforest on the planet, larger than the next two Rainforests combined. Its estimated that it contains 16000 different tree species, 2.5 million insect species, at least 430 mammal species and in total, accounts for around 30% of the entire planets biodiversity.
"The fires in the Amazon region in 2019 were unprecedented in their destruction. Thousands of fires had burned more than 7,600 square kilometres by October that year." - Theconversation.com
For reference, that is about 1/3rd the size of Wales. The outlook for 2020 is just as dire and perhaps even worse.
What are the consequences?
Aside from the impact these fires are having to biodiversity, there are clear climate impacts too. The Amazon plays a key role in filtering out CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it in plant matter for in some cases, thousands of years. It also has a crucial role in both local and global weather patterns by directing and stabilizing rain patterns. It creates its own weather.
The immediate effects of this can be seen from space across America, affecting the regularity and distribution of rain as well as reducing the severity of storms.
A study run by NASA over the last 2 decades has shown that the atmosphere above the Amazon has been drying out.
A forest that normally does not have a "dry season" is beginning to experience periods of severe drought that are exacerbating the fires. There is cause for concern that we are reaching a tipping point in which the self sustaining weather patterns the Amazon relies on will end completely. In this scenario, the Amazon rainforest becomes the Amazon dry-forest, which then becomes the Amazon on-fire-forest and ultimately becomes the Amazon Desert.
There is evidence that a similar thing happened to what we now know as the Sahara between 8000 and 4500 years ago. before this period the Sahara was an expansive grassland with forests and lakes. The current theory for why it became the desert we know today is overgrazing by humans and livestock.
Why are we burning it down?
A bloody good question!
Knowing all of this, one might think it would be a good idea to stop setting it on fire. Unfortunately, the answer of why we do it is not an easy one. There are several factors at play. To name a few aspects:
- Farming: The human population currently uses around 36% (1.5 Billion hectares) of all arable land to feed itself. Our population size has grown exponentially over the last century or so, but our farming practices are more or less the same they were when agriculture was first conceptualized. The Amazon is prime real estate for farming.
- Economic Growth: The Amazon sits largely within the boundaries of Brazil. The Brazilian economy currently relies heavily on primary sectors such as agriculture and mining, being the primary exporter of staples like coffee and oranges as well as a major exporter of iron ore, bauxite, beef, soy, sugar and a host of other high demand goods. To be competitive on the world stage and lift its people out of poverty, the government of Brazil are not at all above removing the Amazon out of the equation. Especially considering it was destroying the natural landscape that allowed so many other countries to push ahead. Brazil Economy
- Infrastructure: As the southern American countries develop there is an ever increasing demand for modern infrastructure and mega projects to meet the needs of the people. This includes hydroelectric dams, most recently on the Tapajós River, the last remaining Amazon river that is undammed. There are also many haphazard dirt roads and bridges littering the forest across many waterways further stifling the distribution of water across the rainforest and damaging marine habitats.
What are we going to do about it?
No really, what do you think can be done? This is an open debate without a clear answer.