Why is the Amazon rainforest so important?
This particular rainforest is often called the “lungs of the earth,” and 60 per cent of it lies within Brazil.
Trees store carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, and the Amazon each year takes in as much as 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. So basically all these trees, take the toxins in the air and convert them to clean oxygen so we can breathe properly.
The Amazon’s billions of trees also release water vapour that forms a thick mist over the rainforest canopy. It rises into clouds and produces rain, affecting weather patterns across South America and far beyond. You need a lot of trees in order to create rain. Without enough trees, the longer and more pronounced dry season could be and then the forest will eventually turn into a savannah.
If the rainfall cycle collapses, winter droughts in parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina could devastate agriculture.
The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate-- the highest on record since 2013 and an 83% increase from last year, Reuters reported. Earlier this month, Brazil declared a state of emergency over the rising number of fires in the region. So far this year, almost 73,000 fires in the country have been detected by Brazil's space research center, INPE.
What caused the fires?
While the Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid, July and August -- the onset of the dry season -- are the region's driest months, with "activity" peaking by early September and stopping by mid-November, according to NASA.
Fire is often used to clear out the land for farming or ranching. For that reason, the vast majority of the fires can be attributed to humans, Christian Poirier, program director of the nonprofit Amazon Watch, told CNN.
Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has said publicly that he thinks the fires were set by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in retaliation to funding cuts. Bolsonaro didn't provide any evidence for his claims and then later said he never accused any groups, according to the BBC.
What's the connection to climate change?
In a release Thursday, Greenpeace said that forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious circle. As the number of fires increase, greenhouse gas emissions do too. This makes the planet's overall temperature rise, the organization said. As the temperature increases, extreme weather events like major droughts happen more often.
"In addition to increasing emissions, deforestation contributes directly to a change in rainfall patterns in the affected region, extending the length of the dry season, further affecting forests, biodiversity, agriculture and human health," Greenpeace said in the release.
What areas are affected?
Satellite images show fires in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondonia, Para and Mato Grosso. The state of Amazonas is most affected, according to Euronews.
Effects of damage to the Amazon go far beyond Brazil and its neighbors. The area's rainforest generates more than 20% of the world's oxygen and is home to 10% of the world's known biodiversity. The Amazon is referred to as the "lungs of the planet" and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, with impacts on everything from farms to drinking water.
The World Meteorological Organization, the United Nation's weather arm, tweeted about the fires Thursday.
"Fires release pollutants including particulate matter & toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere," the organization said.
How many fires are burning?
In a 48-hour period, leading up to Thursday, there were more than 2,500 active fires in the Brazilian rainforest, the BBC reported Friday.
You can see the smoke from space. The European Union Earth Observation Program's Sentinel satellites captured images of "significant amounts of smoke" over Amazonas, Rondonia and other areas. NASA has been monitoring the fires. Over the past week, satellites from the EU and NASA have been tweeting images of the smoke on social media.
On Tuesday, Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist, tweeted data showing smoke from the fires covering about half of Brazil. Later in the week, the BBC tweeted a map showing similar data.
Have the fires been put out?
The fires are still active. On Saturday, Amnesty International captured a photo of the burned forests in the Mato Grosso state. Bolsonaro is mobilizing the Brazilian army to combat the flames, Euronews reported.
There were reports of scattered rain and thunderstorms on Thursday. It's unclear whether the rains would help extinguish the fires.
Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" on Wednesday to help extinguish the fires, Telesur reported. The Supertanker is capable of flying with 115,000 liters (over 30,000 gallons) and was expected to be operational on Friday.
What are politicians doing to help?
President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he spoke with Bolsonaro.
"I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist," Trump said in his post.
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro expressed concern about the fires devastating Brazil and Bolivia and offered aid to help extinguish them. The Venezuelan Chancellery also expressed solidarity with the indigenous communities in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru.
"Venezuela expresses its deep concern about the gigantic and terrible fires that devastate the Amazon region in the territory of several South American countries, with very serious impacts on the population, ecosystems and biological diversity of the area," Venezuela's Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs said in a statement to Brasil247 on Friday.
The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela also proposed a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) on Friday, posting a letter Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
Finland's Prime Minister, Antti Rinne, also released a statement saying that the fires in Brazil were "extremely serious" and that he had contacted the European Commission.
"Brazilian rainforests are vital for the world's climate. I am truly worried about the attitude Brazil seems to have adopted right now regarding its own forests. Brazil should do all it takes to end the fires that are a danger to our whole civilization," Rinne said in the statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Thursday afternoon with the hashtag #ActForTheAmazon.
"Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days!" Macron said in his post. German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed Macron's call to put the Amazon fires on this weekend's G7 agenda, the Guardian reported Friday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retweeted Macron in agreement about bringing attention to the fires at the G7 weekend.
In addition, UK Member of Parliament Rebecca Long-Bailey drafted a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking Johnson to tell Bolsonaro that the destruction of the Amazon must stop.
Bolsonaro has faced criticism. People are accusing him of lack of action and of encouraging logging and farming in the Amazon. In early July, an anonymous senior Brazilian official told the BBC that Bolsonaro encouraged deforestation. Ricardo Galvão, the director of the INPE, was fired Aug. 2 after defending data that showed deforestation was 88% higher in June than it was a year ago, CNN reported. In a Facebook video, Galvão announced that he'd been let go by the agency after a meeting with Brazil's minister of science, technology, innovation and communications, Marcos Pontes.
How can you help?
Here are some ways you can aid in protecting the rainforest:
- Donate to Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.
- Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres.
- Reduce your paper and wood consumption. Double-check with Rainforest Alliance that what you're buying is considered rainforest-safe. You can also purchase rainforest-safe products from the alliance's site.
- Reduce your beef intake. Beef found in processed products and fast-food burgers is often linked to deforestation.
- The World Wide Fund for Nature (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada) works to protect the species in the Amazon and around the world.
- Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 searches you run.
- Explore Change.org petitions. A lawyer in Rio Branco has accumulated over 3 million signatures to mobilize an investigation into the Amazonian fires.
- Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends Indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
- Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower Indigenous peoples.
- Amazon Conservation accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward. You can help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve Indigenous lands and more.
- Contact your elected officials and make your voice heard.
- Donate to One Tree Planted, which works to stop deforestation around the world and in the Amazon Rainforest. One Tree Planted will keep you updated on the Peru Project and the impact your trees are having on the community.
- Sign Greenpeace's petition telling the Brazilian government to save the Amazon rainforest and protect the lands of indigenous and traditional communities.