The Lungs Of the Earth Ablaze

By Kyle Van Pelt

Within the last weeks of August and at the beginning weeks of September, wildfires in the Amazon Basin have burned nearly 7,000 square miles of Brazilian rainforest, igniting tense international debate about Brazilian sovereignty, international aid, and how humanity should interact with the Amazon rainforest. All the while, creatures of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystem, many Indigenous peoples, and Brazil’s everyday citizens feel the wrath of the blaze.

Burning the flora of the Amazon Rainforest is almost entirely a human endeavor, for igniting a rainforest is extremely rare in nature, analogous to the inside of a watermelon combusting. Most fires were started by farmers attempting to clear land for crops and livestock. These farmers do not have malicious intent: they simply use land for their own livelihood. While unsupervised burning may be illegal, and dangerous, laws against burning are rarely enforced. 

Prior to the fire outbreak, Brazilian President Bolsonaro spearheaded a crusade of deregulation in terms of business and the environment with both a strong group of supporters and dissenters. Bolsonaro, for the first week of the fire, refused international aid claiming that the UN was attacking Brazilian sovereignty. As he came to accept the approximately 20 million US dollars worth of UN aid, Bolsonaro engaged in fierce argument with French president Emmanuel Macron, a vocal environmentalist. The verbal sparring included insults directed at France’s history and even Macron’s wife while Macron himself avoided attacking Bolsonaro directly. Luckily tension between the two leaders have recently subsided with Brazil’s quiet acceptance of UN aid money; however, there is little evidence that Brazil’s government will actually pass any environmentalist legislation. President Trump publicly commended Bolsonaro for his fierce defense of Brazil’s sovereignty and national pride.

As the most diverse ecosystem on Earth, countless endangered species are experiencing a new unnatural threat to their rainforest. The Amazon rainforest is widely considered the most crucial part of the biosphere for its biodiversity and population density of living things is the largest on Earth. The dense rainforest flora covers an area slightly over half the size of the United States–including Alaska, Hawaii, and American territories–and produces approximately one fifth of the world’s oxygen. If fires continue to spread, all of these assets to the Earth itself will certainly be placed in peril. Environmental changes due to loss of a significant fraction of the Amazon rainforest are less certain. Scientists have yet to answer questions such as: Would losing an entire biome severely alter global weather patterns? Or, would oxygen depletion attain a level drastic enough to hinder human performance? 

With fires having very recently subsided to more manageable levels immediate danger to the forest is gone, and the world can breath a momentary sigh of relief. However, the Amazon remains in danger of wildfire, with much of it potentially destined to burn.

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