Summer wildfires in the Amazon gain international attention

By Anna Synakh || Contributing Writer


Photo courtesy of Reuters.

For most of the year the Amazon rainforest, 60% of which is located in Brazil, rarely faces any fires due to the high humidity of the region. However, every summer the climate dries and the forest catches thousands of fires, many of which are human-made, and the high oxygen levels of the forest cause the flames to spread quickly. This period of environmental destruction occurs each year and is almost never surprising. Yet, this past summer the fires intensified to a degree never before witnessed. According to CNN, over 77,000 fires have been recorded so far. This statistic has caused terror across the globe, as the flames threaten the existence of millions of biological organisms belonging to this extremely diverse biosphere.

The fact that the fires have intensified at a higher rate than usual, and for no apparent reason, has caused an eruption of discussions regarding their origin. As stated by Vitor Gomes, an environmental scientist at the Federal University of Para in Brazil, “attributing the whole episode to natural causes only is practically impossible” as the country is “not even in the middle of drying season.” In his statement Gomes suggests that many of the fires were set on purpose by farmers who were trying to clear land for farming purposes. This strategy has often been used before but worsened in the past year due to the strategic ignorance of Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, in addressing the issue of deforestation and climate change. 

Bolsonaro has been criticized for trying to cover up poor environmental policies by blaming his critics, the environmentalists of Brazil, for setting fires on purpose. “The fire was started, it seemed in strategic locations. There are images of the entire amazon. How can that be? Everything indicates that people went there to film and then to set fires. That is my feeling,” stated President Bolsonaro in an interview regarding the fires.

Many, including the French president Emmanuel Macron, disapprove of Bolsonaro’s position and his dismissal of the effects of climate change. During Bolsonaro’s presidency the rate of deforestation has increased by 40%, a statistic found by the Brazilian government, but denied by Bolsonaro. In his campaign, the Brazilian president promised to stop fines on breaking environmental laws. Over the past years he has encouraged Brazilian citizens to utilize the Amazon for all its resources, and stated that the land should be worked rather than protected. His environmental minister had previously announced that the government had plans to take away the international funding from fighting deforestation and put the funds towards cattle and soybean farming.

Bolsonaro himself later complained about the lack of funds for fighting the fires in the Amazon, then denied foreign aid offered by the G7. The primary refusal to accept the funds was then explained by the apparent feud between Bolsonaro and Macron, the latter of which is a G7 member, and once the two had seemed to settle the conflict Bolsonaro stated he would accept the money offered by the organization.

According to a CBS Brazil reporter Manuel Bojorquez, the conditions in the forest have worsened so fast, that many in the region do not see it recovering any time soon. Many cities in Brazil are currently covered in smoke and are suffering from poor air quality. 

Though many reports say that the Amazon is essential to the global environment due to high production of oxygen, the rainforest actually uses up the majority of oxygen it produces. The true superpower of the forest is its ability to take in large amounts of carbon, a greenhouse gas. The Amazon rainforest actually accounts for a quarter of the carbon dioxide used by forests worldwide. Its survival is thus not only an issue for Brazil, but one which the wider world is sure to debate in the coming months.

Sophomore Anna Synakh is a contributing writer. Her email is asynakh@fandm.edu.

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