What's Actually Happening in the Amazon?
The Amazon forest produces about 20% of earth's oxygen, and is also called "the planet's lungs."
We have all heard in recent days that the Amazon forest is on fire, that we are losing a large part of our nature and that the damage could be irreversible, but what is really happening and how it all started?
How did the fires start?
A big part of the fires are agricultural, either smallholders burning stubble after harvest, or farmers clearing forest for cropland. Much of the land that is burning was not old-growth rain forest, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use. This means, that the Amazon fire was not caused by lightning.
“99% of the fires result from human actions, either on purpose or by accident. Fires are caused by small-scale agricultural practices or mechanized and modern agribusiness projects”, Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at National Institute for Space Research, told CNN.
How does deforestation work?
Deforestation is the loss or destruction of naturally occurring forests, often due to human activities. And this is a perfect example of deforestation, Farmers cut down trees to plant or expand a farm, then burn the leavings to clear the ground.
In July, deforestation reached a level that we haven’t seen in more than a decade. According to preliminary satellite data from Brazil’s space agency, trees were being cleared at the rate of five football pitches every minute.
Previously, the government of Brazil tried to portray itself as a leader in protecting the Amazon and fighting global warming. From 2004 to 2012, the country created new conservation areas, increased monitoring and this brought deforestation to the lowest level since record-keeping began.
But as the economy went down in 2014, the country became more dependent on the agricultural commodities it produces, beef and soy, which are drivers of deforestation, and on the powerful rural lobby.
What does this fire mean to us and the ecosystem?
Animals and us benefits from the health of the Amazon. As we know, trees take in carbon dioxide and then release oxygen, the Amazon plays a huge role in pulling planet-warming greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. “The Amazon was buying you some time that it is not going to buy anymore,” Carlos Quesada, a scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research, told Public Radio International.
For all the animals like mammals, reptile, amphibian, and bird species that live in the Amazon, the fire impact will come in two phases: one immediate, one long-term.
“Generally, in the midst of wildfire, animals have very few choices. They can try to hide by burrowing or going into water, he says. They can be displaced. Or they can perish. In this situation, a lot of animals will die, from flames, heat from the flames, or smoke inhalation,” says Mazeika Sullivan, associate professor at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, who has done fieldwork in the Colombian Amazon.
“You’ll have immediate winners and immediate losers,” says Sullivan. “In a system that isn’t adapted to fire, you’ll have a lot more losers than you will in other landscapes.” The only “winners” in burned forest are likely to be raptors and other predators.
What is Brazil’s government doing to fight the fires?
Mr Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, has previously said his government lacks the resources to fight the record number of fires in the Amazon region but his government is also being accused of slashing funding for environmental protection.
"The funding for Brazil's environment agency has gone down by 95% this year," Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, told the BBC's Today programme.
But last Friday the government authorized the military to help tackle the blazes. Brazil counts with 44,000 soldiers that have been deployed to combat the fires and environmental crimes in the Amazon, and military operations are already in progress in seven states as the result of requests for assistance from local governments and the president.
What is the rest of the world doing?
The United Nations general secretary, many world leaders and celebrities have expressed concern. French President Emmanuel Macron called the sweeping Brazilian fires an "international crisis."
"Our house is on fire. Literally," Macron tweeted on Thursday. The German government backed Macron and called the fires "frightening and threatening."
The Amazon was the top priority in the agenda for G7 leaders at a summit in France. They made a very strong statement condemning the recent increase in deforestation and urge Brazil to restore the Amazon protections that previously made the country a global environmental leader.
Conservationists and concerned citizens have taken social media, and #PrayForAmazonas became Twitter’s top-trending hashtag on Wednesday. Environmentalists are also calling attention to the consequences that a burning Amazon would have on climate change. By Thursday, #PrayForAmazonas had spurred momentum for a spin-off hashtag: #ActForAmazonas.
What can you do?
You don’t need to wait for other people actions, you can help reforest parts of the world, how? You can contribute to the Rainforest Trust and Rainforest Alliance. The Arbor Day Foundation also has a program to help save tropical rain forests which provide habitat for some 50% of the world's plants and animals.Another way to help the Amazon is buying products that feature the "Rainforest Alliance Certified™" seal.
Get even more political, voting doesn’t happen too often, so you need to participate to put pressure on your own and other governments to take action. If is possible for you, try join a protest to show those in power that we want to safeguard the planet.
The evidence shows that, thanks to human activity, global temperatures are rising at a level which isn't sustainable for the environment to be able to survive, so you need to become a more Eco-friendly person. Drive less, walk more, reduce the meat on your diet, reduce your wood and paper consumption, small steps lead to the biggest changes.