Environment

Amazon Rainforest Fires: Fast Facts

Facts on the raging Amazonian fires, what is being done to save the rainforests and why they are so important

23.08.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash
Photo by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash

The Amazon Rainforest is burning at an uncontrollable rate. Here is what you need to know:

 

 

The Amazonian Forest Fires

  • The Amazon covers a huge area (6.7 million sq km) of South America – mainly in Brazil but also Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
  • According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), satellite data showed an 83 percent increase in fires this year, compared to the same period in 2018.
  • Since Thursday, 9,500 wildfires have been detected.
  • Indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon lost 24 sq miles of forest so far in 2019, according to Amnesty International. That’s 20 percent more than 2018. 
  • The world didn’t know about the raging fires until 22nd August 2019, after the Amazon had been ablaze for three weeks.
  • Once the general public became aware, the internet expressed outrage on social media over the fact that major news outlets failed to cover the fires.
  • Environmental organisations and researchers say the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest were caused by cattle ranchers and loggers who want to clear and utilise the land.
  • Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has surged above three football fields a minute, according to the latest government data.
  • Many blame Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right-wing, nationalist president who was elected to office on 1st January 2019.
  • President Bolsonaro says there are not enough resources to put out the fires.
  • Bolsonaro claims that the fires are being set by NGOs aimed at saving the Amazon — he has no proof of this.
  • The sharp rise in deforestation – following year-on-year increases in May and June – confirms fears that president Jair Bolsonaro has given a green light to illegal land invasion, logging and burning.
  • By the 25th of July, clearance that month hit 1,345 sq km, a third higher than the previous monthly record under the current monitoring system by the Deter B satellite system, which started in 2015.
  • Ricardo Galvão, the recently sacked head of of the government agency tasked with monitoring deforestation, told The Guardian that “this government [led by Bolsonaro] is sending a very clear message that the control of deforestation will not be like it was in the past …. And when the loggers hear this message that they will no longer be supervised as they were in the past, they penetrate [the rainforest].” Galvão claims “enormous” damage had already been done since Bolsonaro took power in January.
  • Environmental experts are saying that the Amazonian forest fires will accelerate climate change and the heating of the planet.
  • UN secretary general António Guterres said he was deeply concerned: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity.”

  • Today, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the upcoming G7 summit to put the fires at the top of the summit’s agenda. “Our home is burning,” Macron said in a tweet.
  • Macron’s intervention prompted a furious response from Bolsonaro, accusing Macron of weighing in for political gain: “I regret that President Macron seeks to instrumentalise an internal issue of Brazil and other Amazonian countries for personal political gains. The sensationalist tone with which he refers to the Amazon (appealing even to fake photos) does nothing to solve the problem.”

 

  • The fires come after a landmark court case won by an Ecuador tribe to protect the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling.
  • Scientists say the ongoing destruction will have dire consequences for Brazil and the world.
  • Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher with the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo, said the surge in deforestation was taking the rainforest closer to a tipping point beyond which swaths of the usually humid forest would become a dry savannah.
  • Porto Velho is one of the worst affected areas. Citizens report that the cities and streets are filled with smoke and hospitals are full with people suffering from respiratory diseases.
  • In the soya frontier state of Mato Grosso, which has had more fires than anywhere else in Brazil this year, burning has been detected inside indigenous lands and nature reserves.
  • In Bolivia, more than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres), or roughly an area the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, has burned, officials in San Cruz province estimate.
  • São Paulo, a municipality in the Southeast Region of Brazil, turned dark and stormy today when thick smoke from the fires descended on the busy city.

 

Is anyone doing anything about it?

 

Amazon fires, boeing supertanker

Boeing 747 Supertanker: Ability to launch more than 70,000 liters of fire products (Global Supertanker)
  • Bolivian officials said on Thursday they were awaiting the arrival of a “Boeing Supertanker 747” fire-fighting plane in an effort to tame the wildfires. Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta said: ”We believe that with this plane, we can put out the fire.”
  • Federal prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation into the surge in deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon.
  • A petition to the Brazilian government has taken over Change.org, urging the “Government in Brazil to mobilise and help us put an end to the burning of the Amazon rainforest.” It was started by lawyer Gabriel Santos, who lives in Rio Branco, at the heart of the Amazon. At the time of writing, 2,990,155 had signed, with the number jumping up every second.
  • The Lib Dem Brazilian delegation, lead by Jane Brophy, has sent a damning letter to President Bolsonaro demanding immediate action over the Amazon rainforest crisis.
  • #PrayforAmazonas is trending worldwide on Twitter, as people try to bring global awareness to the issue.
  • Finland has urged the EU to ban Brazilian Beef due to the devastation caused by fires in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Today, Bolsonaro has said the Brazilian army may help fight Amazon fires

  • Greenpeace and WWF have petitions running to stop the destruction of the Amazon

 

Why the Amazon Rainforest is so important 

Amazon, Amazon Fires

  • South America’s Amazon contains nearly a third of all the tropical rainforests left on Earth and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world.
  • The Amazon rainforest generates more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.”
  • Despite covering only around one percent of the planet’s surface, the Amazon is home to 10 percent of all the wildlife species we know about – and probably a lot that we don’t know yet.
  • WWF research shows that, on average, a ‘new’ species of animal or plant is being discovered in the Amazon every three days.
  • The Amazon has more species of primate than anywhere else on Earth.
  • The Amazon Rainforest is still the home to many indigenous people. The number of indigenous people living in the Amazon Basin is poorly quantified, but some 20 million people in eight Amazon countries and the Department of French Guiana are classified as “indigenous.”
  • We all depend on the Amazon in some way — food, water, wood and medicines — but we mostly need it to help stabilise the climate as it plays a critical role in global and regional carbon and water cycles.
  • Not only does the destruction of rainforests lead to a rise of carbon in the atmosphere, but it also creates a’ negative feedback loop’ — where increased deforestation leads to a rise in temperatures which brings about the drying of tropical forests and increases the risk of forest fires.

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