Over the Summer there were plenty of articles on the Amazon rainforest fires. Some quite dire in tone over the consequences and other much less so. In the midst of all this, it can be hard to understand exactly the seriousness of what occurred, why these fires are happening, and how this compares to previous years.
The Amazon rainforest covers some 40% of South America and spans the territory of eight countries. There have been very significant fires mostly in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. It is important to understand that two-thirds of the Amazon is located in Brazil. Brazil has been a big focus of the news, not just because of how much of the rainforest is there. There was a growth of 82% of fires in Brazil over the same January to August period in 2018. It has also garnered attention due to accusations over the source, intensity and purpose of the fires.
Summer fires are common and over the past few years the territory being burned down seemed to be decreasing, but this summer it was over as the number of fires and burned territory rose dramatically. These fires are the result of human action intent on opening up land for agriculture, lumber or other economic exploitation.
In the past, there have been measures to provide amnesty of farmers who illegally razed forest, laws making it easier to claim land claimed unlawfully and a reduction in inspections and oversight. Recently this has been made worse with Brazil aiming to economically “develop” the Amazon and reduce oversight and regulations. The desire to use the Amazon was cited as one of the motivations for the mass arsons that would occur in 10 and 11 of August.
In August 10th and 11th in Pará, Brazil, a “Day of Fire” was organised and crowd-funded by some seventy people. There was an increase of some 300% in forest fires in the region; it was the biggest fire in the history of Pará. There had been several warning before this “Day of Fire” happened, but the environmental agency stated it did not have the resources and the National Public Security Force did not act.
The summer of 2019 fires were no anomaly or hysteria from the media. The statistics and analysis make it clear that these fires were more several than those we had been seeing for the past few years. And, it is also clear that these fires are the direct result of decreases in the regulation and oversight over the rainforest. The economic growth objectives are running against the equilibrium of the Amazon.
The Amazon rainforest accounts for some 16% of the total oxygen being produced on land from photosynthesis, and provides a habitat for hundreds of endangered animals and plants. The World Wildlife Fund has said that the rainforest could become a dry savannah, destroying its ability to generate the oxygen we need and to provide a habitat to its wildlife. It is thus clear the need to protect the Amazon; it is not however clear whether measures to protect it will be taken.