On the Brink of Losing the Planet’s Lungs


The Amazonia, or the Amazon rainforest, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and produces a large portion of the Earth’s oxygen which is why it is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs”. Famed for its biodiversity, the forests cover most of northwestern Brazil, extending into Columbia, Peru, and other South American countries. Apart from providing habitat to millions of rare flora and fauna species, the forest is also home to many indigenous tribes such as the Muras, Manaus, Belém, Iquitos, and more.

While wild-fires are common, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (known as INPE) has reported 72,843 fires in the country since the start of 2019, with more than half of them in the Amazon region. Deforestation has gone up by 80% since the last year itself and the fires on the peak day was 700% higher than the average for the same day over the past 15 years. The European Union’s satellite, Copernicus, and NASA have also revealed images of the smoke being produced spreading into neighbouring Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Even Sao Paulo, a city more than 1,700 miles away, witnessed the sky blacken in the middle of the day as the smoke blocked out the sun resulting in a rather grim, dystopian climate. This smoke has travelled as far as the Atlantic Coast.

A traditional Slash-and-Burn practice, wherein farmers and cattle ranchers use fire to clear land and make it ready for use, is probably one of the reasons behind the large number of fires, said Christian Poirier, the program-director of the non-profit organization Amazon Watch. A CNN meteorologist Haley Brink also pointed out the season agricultural pattern as the farmers wait for the dry season to start burning and clearing areas. The majority of the fires are human-made for even during the dry seasons, it is very hard for the rainforests to be set ablaze unlike the bushlands of California or Australia.

This phenomenon has caused major global uproar, quite rightfully so, as it is causing irreparable damage to the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas mainly emitted from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and other natural gases, according to the WWF.  These emissions contribute to the warming of our planet. At a time when the Earth requires billions of trees to absorb these gases and stabilize the climate, the planet is losing its biggest rainforest which would leave a dry savannah in its wake.

One would expect the government to combat this problem and bring this situation under control; however, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has only made things a lot worse. He has considerably weakened the Environmental agency, attacked conservation NGOs, and opened the Amazon to commercial mining, farming, and logging. With the dismissal of the satellite data on deforestation, the far-right leader has also fired the head of the space agency. Rate of deforestation has just been accelerated in the first eight months of Bolsonaro, one that crept up in the past five years under the previous presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer.

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The UN Secretary General and many other world leaders and celebrities have expressed concern. The Amazon crisis will be high up on the agenda for the G7 Leaders’ summit in France this weekend. They are likely to condemn the increase in deforestation and urge Brazil to restore the previous environment-protection laws that previously made it a global environmental leader.

The French President Emmanuel Macron even accused Bolsonaro of lying when he played down the climate change concerns at the G20 summit in June.

While the pressure on the state authorities is necessary, so is reforestation for only that can act as a buffer against the tipping point. Governments in the region will be required to align their environmental and trade policies and also seek funding for the afforestation project. Some of the major global players such as the US and UK spend a small sum of money on conservation and then promote billions of dollars worth trade in beef, soy, timber, minerals, and others which undermine the protection efforts. 

The international hue and cry has led Brazil to have its diplomats fix the national image by persuading the global community of its environmental credentials. Bolsonaro’s administration sent out 12-page circulars to its foreign embassies, outlining all that they need to say in order to defend the government’s position on the issue.

Bolsonaro took to claiming his ‘profound love’ for the rainforest in a television speech and criticized the “disinformation” being spread as a pretext for sanctions.

In a rare step, the Brazilian armed forces were mobilized to contain these fires. Reversal in their stance of dismissing these concerns has been a result of the mounting pressure, especially with social media campaigns such as #SaveAmazonia, which led to many countries threatening to cut off their trade deals with Brazil and boycotting of Brazilian products.

Collective action is an absolute necessity and is proving to act as a lobbyist by exerting pressure on the regime. As a consumer, one can cut down on the consumption of Brazilian beef or other products unless certified by groups such as Rainforest Alliance. Donations are also helpful for organizations that support the forest, forest dwellers, and biodiversity, like the Instituto Socioambiental, Amazon Watch, WWF, Greenpeace, Imazon, International Rivers and Friends of the Earth.

It is crucial to put aside political agendas and actually listen to the voices of the people living in the forest, such as the indigenous tribes and riverine communities.

Members of the Mura tribe marched into the forests with their bodies painted orange-red, armed with bows and clubs, to defend their homeland. The fires threaten the more than 18,000 members currently residing there. They showed Reuters an area, as big as several football fields, near their village where the forests have been cleared leaving dirt and machinery tracts behind.

Handerch Wakana Mura, one of the several leaders of a tribal clan, said, “With each passing day, we see the destruction advance: deforestation, invasion, and logging.”

Struggling for over 20 years to have the land around their village demarcated as an official indigenous reserve, one that would bring added protections, it has proven to be a tough battle as Bolsonaro has vowed to not set aside any more land for the indigenous. The clan plans to fight by filing complaints with the country’s environmental enforcement agency and public prosecutors.

Leader Raimundo Praia Belém Mura, a 73-year-old who has lived on the land his entire life, has taken the oath to fight till the bitter end.

“For this forest, I will go on until my last drop of blood,” he said.


Quotes from India Today 

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