Amazon rainforest blaze – Environmental disaster and divisive politics?
This week news outlets have been covering the story of the Amazon rainforest fire, ever since the smoke was seen by both NASA and NOAA satellites. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), part of the Brazilian ministry for science has reported that this year has seen an 84% increase in Amazonian rainforest fire compared to the same period in 2017. Fires in the Amazon rainforest last year amounted to around the 40,000 mark, whereas this year the blazes have been in the region of 70, 000. This week, the fires were so widespread that the smoke was reported to have been seen from São Paulo, a Brazilian metropolis about 2700km away. Analysts have however been unable to look past another pressing issue at hand; the divisive politics regarding the fate of the Amazon.
Alive for over 50 million years, The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse environments on the planet housing up to 10% of the world’s known animal species. Often referred to as the “lungs of the planet,” this massive rainforest (which borders Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) produces up to 20% of the world’s oxygen. Also in the Amazon rainforest, you will find over 1500 species of birds and around 2.5 million insect species. Not to mention the 5000+ varieties of fish that swim in its rivers and “Igarapés.” Hundreds of prescription drugs are derived directly from plants which grow in the Amazon rainforest, many other medicines that grow here are believed to have anti – cancer properties but have not been studied as of yet.
The Amazon rainforest is also home to indigenous tribes who throughout the years have kept their traditions and customs alive, despite pressure to assimilate to modern society. These tribes hold invaluable knowledge when it comes to forest survival and plant/herbal remedies and have honed many skills that are unattainable to the outside world. Furthermore, many remain uncontacted and speak their own languages of which there are around 200 remaining. Amazon rainforest fires are a threat to those who call the region home.
As outlined in the previous paragraph, the Amazon rainforest is vital to life on Earth. Its size is diminishing at an alarming rate to make way mostly for logging and cattle farming that help provide product for the bulk of Brazil’s export market. It is said that there is a “football pitch-sized” area lost of the Amazon every minute. One of the techniques used to clear areas of rainforest annually is by deliberately setting them alight. Despite global efforts to combat deforestation, the fate of the Amazon remains a divisive issue for Brazilians, politicians, NGO’s and businesses.
It is no secret that deforestation is a lucrative business and many individuals and organizations see it as a market friendly and clear way for Brazil to build its weakened economy. Even the act of deforestation itself (whether legal or not) is now a real estate economy in the Brazilian Amazon. Land is claimed, cleared and sold for a high price to wealthy cattle ranchers and loggers.
Earlier this month, Ricardo Galvao, the former head of INPE reported that a disagreement with Bolsonaro led to the loss of his job. After data produced by INPE indicated a significant surge in deforestation this year (since Bolsonaro took office), there was a dispute over whether the facts were inaccurate. Galvao was accused of using the data to deliberately tarnish the reputation of the Brazilian president and his government and that the numbers were not correct. This accusation was backed by Brazilian minister for environment Ricardo Salles who claimed the report was damaging to Brazil’s international reputation. On the other hand, the Brazilian government under Bolsonaro has been accused of relaxing fines, warnings and seizure of illegal deforestation equipment. In turn this may have led to the drastic surge in deforestation, potentially culminating in the current Amazon rainforest fire.
In a recent post on “Facebook live” Bolsonaro appeared to hit back at his accusers, suggesting that NGO’s may be to blame for starting the fires to “deliberately tarnish his reputation.” International bodies such as WWF, have made it clear that the fires were most likely due to increased deforestation, whether they were started deliberately or not and that there has been no significant change in the regional climate to trigger such a series of wildfire.
European governments have also reacted and French President Macron announced publicly on 23 July 2019 that France would withdraw from the draft free trade agreement between Europe and Mercosur if the government of Bolsonaro did not intervene to stop the fires in the Amazon.
In conclusion, Mr Bolsonaro seems to favour using the area of the Amazon rainforest for development and to build Brazil’s economy. Environmental experts say his policies are having a negative impact on the environment and causing an alarming increase in deforestation which could have caused the Amazon rainforest fire currently garnering international attention.