The Amazonian forest fires that erupted in early January this year are still raging deeper into the rainforest, and the significant escalation in August has meant that fires have hit a record-breaking rate. According to the Guardian, more than 9,000 new fires have ignited since August, which is an 80% rise from the same period last year.
Although the fires may seem a long distance away, making it easy to assume that we are safe from its reach, the effects are definitely world-wide. Commonly referred to as the lungs of the Earth, the Amazon is home to a large proportion of the Earth’s oxygen, as well as being the world’s biggest carbon sink. Studies show, however, that if the rainforest continues to degrade at its current rate, long-term effects could be as harsh as a transition from rainforest to savannah. This would not only mean that the vast quantities of carbon stored in the rainforest would be released back into the atmosphere, but that this ecosystem, which holds great biological richness, would pose a threat to the 10% of the world’s known species that currently reside in the rainforest.
As well as dramatically affecting the Amazon’s wildlife, the effects also stretch over to the local communities. 400 indigenous tribes live in the protected reserves of the rainforest, many of which have also been caught in the rapid fires. Already putting many lives at risk,further fires could leave many tribes and families displaced.
The shocking rise in forest fires positively correlate with a sharp rise in deforestation and illegal mining in the world’s largest rainforest. 80% of current deforested land is used for cattle-ranching. The beef and soy products that are produced from this are not for local consumption, but for exportation, to be sold at our large supermarkets and purchased by us.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsanaro, initially accused local Non-governmental Organisations of intentionally setting the fires. However after large international scrutiny, Bolsanaro has proclaimed a 60-day ban on deforestation in the region. Seven South American countries, including Peru and Colombia, have also come together to form a Rainforest Preservation Pact, whilst the G7 have agreed to fund $22m in helping to preserve the Amazon.
So what can we do to help? Although the fires may seem too vast to directly fix, we can all do our bit to save our environment. Reforestation to reverse the effects of deforestation: if we all put on our gardening gloves and plant a tree, we can help to sequester the carbon released from the burning trees in Brazil.
As discussed earlier, be aware of what you buy; a large majority of the beef and soy products we purchase are exported from Brazil, which directly supports further deforestation. Look out specifically for Rainforest Alliance products, which attempt to promote responsible business and agriculture.
Charities, as always, are a good place to go if you want to make a profound and direct change. Many organisations, such as WWF and Amazon Watch are actively fighting to preserve the Amazon and protect its ecosystem from further damage.