The fires ravaging Brazil's Amazon rainforest are another reminder of why preserving them in the first place is vital. Monday's blackout in São Paulo, 1,700 miles away from the rainforest, renewed worry across the region and inspired #PrayForAmazonia to trend.
Several outlets report that Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) documented an 80 percent increase in fires from last year. 9,000 of the 72,843 recorded occurred in the last week.
NASA was even able to capture images of the fires from space. With the Amazon forest fire at the forefront of conversation, let's revisit the importance of rainforests in the fight against climate change.
Why does this issue matter right now?
In addition to the record number of rain forest fires noted by INPE, if left untended the damage could have dire consequences. Thomas Lovejoy, an ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-at-Large, tells the outlet that trees are sometimes burned to make room for cattle farming. Once the deforestation process begins, the area grows drier. As the number of trees decrease, so, too, does rainfall.
"The Amazon has this tipping point because it makes half of its own rainfall," Lovejoy said. So if the rainforest gets dry enough, it could reach a point of no return. This would also heavily impact climate change and Earth's ability to prosper in the future.
From the other side of Earth, here’s the latest on the Amazonia fires 🌳— WMO | OMM (@WMO) August 20, 2019
Produced by @CopernicusEU’s atmosphere monitoring service, it shows the smoke reaching the Atlantic coast and São Paulo 🇧🇷
DATA HERE▶️https://t.co/Q6qzFdPfIT pic.twitter.com/aJKU2YwRpJ
What or who is causing the Amazon forest fire?
The cause behind the Brazil fire is a point of contention between many environmentalists and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. When Bolsonaro was asked about the fires, he claimed nongovernmental organizations were setting them in criticism of his leadership.
"The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations," Bolsonaro said, per The Washington Post. he said. "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."
But Ricardo Mello, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature's Amazon Program, tells the Post that it's "very naive" for Bolsonaro to deny some of the more likely causes.
Christian Poirier, program director of the non-profit organization Amazon Watch, told CNN that farmers clearing the land for agricultural reasons is the likely source. "It's the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry," Poirier tells CNN. "[Farmers] wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that's what we're suspecting is going on down there."
The Amazon Rainforest in particular is known as 'the Lungs of the World' because it sucks up global emissions of carbon dioxide, and about 20% of earth's oxygen is produced by the Amazonia.— Pitambar soren (@1213Pitambar) August 22, 2019
And now its burning due to man's greed and nature’s fury. #AmazonFire #PrayForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/OD8cLvdh5b
What functions does the rainforest provide?
Many scientists and environmentalists agree that rainforests are one of the best defenses against the threat of climate change. The Amazon forest is often referred to as "the planet's lungs." It alone produces about 20% of the world's oxygen and assists in reprocessing carbon dioxide, per Express.
Vegetation in the Amazon absorbs the harmful carbon dioxide, which is vital. The World Wildlife Fund says that if the rainforest is irreversibly damaged, harmful carbon monoxide could be inhaled instead. Express also notes WWF's findings that "without tropical rainforests, the greenhouse effect would likely be even more pronounced, and climate change may possibly get even worse in the future."
20% of the oxygen in your lungs right now was produced by the Amazon rainforest.— James Wong (@Botanygeek) August 22, 2019
It’s been on fire for 3 weeks.pic.twitter.com/b2yti4a4FS
Per WWF, rainforests also regulate climate and plants within them have proven medicinal benefits. The Amazon is also home thousands of species and edible plants that would seize to exist if the forest fires continue.
"The Amazon is incredibly important for our future, for our ability to stave off the worst of climate change," Poirier told CNN. "This isn't hyperbole. We're looking at untold destruction — not just of the Amazon but for our entire planet."
The Amazonia has been burning for three weeks!— Matthew Lush (@MatthewLush) August 21, 2019
20% of the worlds oxygen
10% of the worlds species
40,000 plant species
3,000 edible fruits
Why isn’t the media covering this?#AmazonRainforest #PrayforAmazonia pic.twitter.com/ni84Wkw35s
How can I help?
- Preserve an acre of the rainforest by donating to the Rainforest Action Network.
- Donate to the Rainforest Foundation US. They also provide a list of daily ways you can help.
- Donate to or volunteer at the Rainforest Alliance, Amazon Conservation Association, Amazon Watch, the Amazon Conservation Team
- Sign Greenpeace's petition, which urges Brazil's government to protect the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous population.
- Cut back on meat or consider adding more vegan items to your diet.
- Reduce your consumption of wood, paper, and fossil fuels.
- Call your elected officials and demand action on environmental issues and climate change.
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