This year, fires have engulfed large parts of the Brazilian Amazon causing problems that could reach far beyond the rainforest. Brazilian prime-minister Jair Bolsonaro hasn’t been of much help so far.
As of now, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of meat. In order to produce this meat, farmers need cattle and land for the cattle to graze. As farmers start to run out of good grazing land, they start looking to the Amazon.
The problem is that the Amazon rainforest is the opposite of suitable grazing land. It’s heavily wooded and doesn’t have enough grass for heavy grazing. To solve this, farmers have to convert the rainforest into pastures. This involves heavy deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture which purposely burns trees so the ashes make the soil more fertile over time.
Since the 1920s, about 20% of the Amazon has been cleared. As a result, there are many parts of it that exist as “rainforest islands” surrounded by open pastures and farm land. While the inner parts of these islands are cooler and humid, the edges see rising temperatures and less humidity. This change causes fungi in the outer areas to retreat inwards, leading to a decrease in decomposition. This then allows dead plant matter to pile up and act as kindling. Once this foliage lights up, often due to slash and burn, the fire can easily spread out of control, engulf the rest of the island and spread to other parts of the rainforest.
Another problem lies in Brazilian Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro and his administration. During his presidency, the administration has pledged to open more of the Amazon to development. To then shift attention away from this, Bolsonaro blamed NGOs who were against his policies for purposely starting wildfires as a way to get international backlash against him. However, these accusations were unfounded. Later on, he fired Brazil’s director of the National Institute for Space Research for releasing data that showed a sharp increase in deforestation under his administration.
Recently, Bolsonaro got the international spotlight for declining $20 million of aid from the G7 to help control the fires. Bolsonaro stated that the fires were a domestic issue and did not require international action. He even went as far as calling this international action a form of colonialism. Recently, he stated that he would consider accepting the aid if French President Emmanuel Macron, who was heavily involved in offering the aid, apologized for calling him “extremely rude” earlier last week.
The fires in the Amazon, however, aren’t just a domestic issue. The Amazon is the largest forest in the world and plays a huge role in absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. Should the forest see more catastrophic damage, climate change could get much worse not just for Brazil, but for the entire world.
Right now, the Amazon is in a dangerous state. Bolsonaro’s future handling of the situation will likely have a huge impact for better or for worse, and other countries have certainly taken note.