If you have not been living under a rock, chances are that you might have come across the jarring and blazing images which came out from the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, a rapidly developing country in South America, in August 2019. The world caught the attention of the conflagration of these forests– also known as the “lungs of the planet” as they are responsible for over 20 per cent of total oxygen turnover. Home to 60 per cent of the tropical rainforest, a million of indigenous people and around a tenth of entire species, these rainforests have the greatest biodiversity than any other country on the planet. These tropical rainforests have been catching fire, on and off, over the years but in 2019, the incidents of such fire break-outs increased significantly than the previous year. By August 2019, more than 73,000 incidents of such fire break-outs were reported. So, what led to this massive rise in forest fire incidents? Is the cause a natural occurrence or is it anthropogenic? We will see it in the below paragraphs.
The forests hold enormous economic value and in recent years, human activities have only gone up deeper into the woods. With regulations relaxed in terms of monitoring of illegal logging, deforestation and fragmentation, the exploitation of the forests has accelerated over the years. Brazil, being the ninth-largest economy in the world, is moving ahead on an economic growth trajectory. Its President, Jair Bolsonaro, has been facing an avalanche of criticism for boosting the economy of his country, in any possible way, even at the expense of its ecological decline. Since taking up the top post, he has rolled back several environmental protection laws and has promoted industrial interests which want greater access to the forests; this has not only threatened the entire ecosystem but has also risked the lives of its indigenous people.
More and more forest area is being cleared up for cattle ranching, livestock and agricultural production, especially for soybean plantation. As meat consumption has increased five times in the world since the 1970s, cattle rearing offers a lucrative opportunity to business owners. To clear these forests, trees are felled and burnt with controlled fire, however, sometimes this fire spreads to the unintended area. Deforestation also creates a conducive environment for the fire to spread as the grass and shrubs, which earlier had no access to the sun under the shade of a thick canopy, now remain exposed to the sun and get drier with time. It acts as a fuel to the fire. The recent conflagration has resulted not only in the loss of trees, but it has also caused an enormous loss of fauna and displacement of indigenous people. The smoke wafting from the fire causes lesser cloud formation which results in lesser precipitation and lesser rain and sometimes drought-like conditions too. Also, the trees capture a lot of carbon and once burnt, it causes a release of several greenhouse gases which further enhances global warming and contributes to climate change.
The incidents of fire reduced considerably in the months that followed the massive conflagration owing to the ban on starting a fire in the forest area. The mounting international pressure led the President Jair Bolsonaro dispatch 44,000 troops to the interior to fight fires. However, the fire incidents continue to occur and if deforestation is not curbed, such wildfires will become a regular phenomenon. This will not only be bad for people of Brazil but also for the entire planet. We can not let our “lungs of the planet” to suffer beyond recovery.