The Amazon is on fire: Here’s why

graphic by Victoria Blair

The Amazon is on fire and it has been for the last few weeks.

There has been an uproar around the world because it’s a horrible thing happening to such an important ecosystem on our planet. People were lashing out at news outlets and organizations because of the lack of coverage.

In just a few days’ time, though, increased coverage of the topic took over social media and became something everyone was talking about. Countless news outlets were covering the story and #PrayforAmazonia was trending on Twitter as early as Aug. 20.

What people need to understand, though, is that fires in the Amazon are nothing new. Human-created fires are set every year during the “season of the queimada,” which is “when farmers intentionally set fire to the forest for agricultural purposes,” according to complex. This period usually lasts from June to December, which is when the Amazon Basin dries out, according to National Geographic, thus making it more susceptible to fires. The difference is that they are usually controlled fires that occur after trees are cut down in a certain area and the fallen trees, after being left to dry out, are set ablaze to clear the area.

The difference between this year and previous years is that there was an 83 per cent increase compared to the same time period in 2018, according to Business Insider. As of Aug. 21, a total of 72,843 fires took place.

One of the reasons for humans setting fire to the Amazon is the development of agricultural crops. These crops could be anything from soybeans to palm oil, or the land can be used for cattle farming – considering Brazil was deemed the world’s top exporter of beef in 2018, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The same source says that the cows, for which there’s an estimated headcount of 232 million, primarily eat grass. That’s why land is being converted from forest to grazing crops. In a Global News article, it was said that deforestation in the Amazon for the purpose of cattle farming led to the forest losing 17 per cent of its area in the last 50 years.

Forests cover more than 30 per cent of the land on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Not only that, but these forests are home to 80 per cent of land species. Also, forests, especially rain forests, are also responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into oxygen, which, you know, is vital for our survival.

On the same note, rain forests act as carbon sinkholes. The WWF’s website says: “Tropical forests alone hold more than 228 to 247 gigatons of carbon, which is more than seven times the amount emitted each year by human activities. But when forests are cut, burned or otherwise removed they emit carbon instead of absorb carbon. Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions.”

A lot can come out of this discussion about the Amazon being on fire: is this deliberate blazing of a central part of our planet connected to the increase of climate change in the long-run? Is cattle farming and the meat industry, specifically beef, worth the destruction of important ecosystems?

All of this and more are reasons to be wary of the permanent and potentially irreversible effects of climate change.

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