Fires rage in the Amazon

Tate Schloesser, Editor-in-Chief

All throughout 2019 over 40,000 fires have been destroying the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. These fires have been credited to slash-and-burn techniques used by farmers to create land for farming, grazing and mining, as well as an increased dry season in the rainforest do to the changing climate.

Brazilian farmers are burning the forest to create economic growth in the Amazon Region, a place where the average GDP per capita is less than $10,000. For nearly a decade income in Brazil has decreased steadily, and turning the rainforest into farms, mines, and pastures has steadily reversed the trend that has been seen over the last ten years.

The rate at which fires are occurring is increasing as well, with an up-tick of more than 20,000 reported fires from 2018 to 2019. Such an abnormal surge is most closely linked with far-right nationalist President Jair Bolsonaro’s new environmental policies which decrease regulation throughout the country, especially in the Amazon Rainforest. President Bolsonaro’s reasoning is that the Amazon belongs to the people of Brazil, not the people of the world as a whole, and that Brazilians should be able to do what they please with it. Similar nationalist arguments from around the world are used to gain the support of their population, especially when the economy is doing poorly. Drawing back environmental regulations creates a more free market throughout the country, and occasionally stimulates the economy at the cost of environmental damages.

President Bolsonaro has said that the situation in the Amazon is under control, but has faced backlash from the global community. French President Emmanuel Macron and G7 leaders attempted to give $20 million to help fight the fires in the Amazon. Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, called their attempts at generosity a “lamentable colonialist stance” and insulted Macron’s wife as well.

While some leaders have criticized President Bolsonaro’s actions on the ongoing fires, other leaders have complemented the Brazilian President. For example, American President Donald Trump said in a tweet, “He [referring to Bolsonaro] is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil”.

The Amazon Rainforest has been dubbed the “carbon sink of the world” and “the earth’s lungs”. These recent fires are affecting global climate by reducing the amount of trees, in the largest rainforest in the world, that are able to intake carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Along with a decrease in carbon intake, rain patterns all across the region are dependent on water being transferred from the rainforest plants to the atmosphere, and without them a negative feedback loop will end up causing the rainforest to disappear completely.

There are many ways to improve conditions in the Amazon Rainforest, and most stem from developing sustainable ways to grow local economies. This can be done by reusing formerly forested areas for farming and ranching and replanting trees in unused deforested areas to promote biodiversity and increased soil retention. Another way to improve conditions in the rainforest is for governments to enact land and environmental policy reform and enforcing the laws they put in place.