The Amazon Rainforest is Burning
Author: Rachel Date Posted:24 August 2019
The Amazon Rainforest is burning. Over 2,500 fires are raging right this minute.
It is normal in the annual cycle for there to be some fires during the dry season in the world’s largest rainforest, which produces a massive 20% of the world’s oxygen.
But this year the number of fires are up over 80% for the same period in 2018. Thousands of wildfires rage in indigenous territories and conservation areas throughout Brazil with smoke plumes visible thousands of kilometres away.
The government agency INPE has registered 72,843 fires since January, the highest number since records began in 2013.
So why is this year worse than any other on record?
An increase in fires is in part likely due to land degradation from land clearing and farming. This reduces water availability, warms the soil and intensifies drought. But that’s not the whole answer.
Retired military officer and controversial hard right authoritarian politician Jair Messias Bolsonaro has been President since 1 January 2019.
Bolsonaro considers the 60% of Amazon rainforest which is in Brazil to be a matter of national sovereignty and has repeatedly and openly stated he believes it should be opened up to business such as mining, logging, agriculture and exploiting its natural resources and minerals.
He has displayed open resentment to calls to protect this globally significant natural treasure, labelling it as foreign interference designed to stifle Brazil’s economic competitiveness.
On the wildfire disaster, which has received global attention this week, Bolsonaro has called it an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries, repelling international diplomatic efforts to take action.
In his short time in power Bolsonaro already has form in undermining institutions responsible for preserving the Amazon by weakening government environmental enforcement organisations, the extent to which is a blog article all its own.
When Brazil's National Institute of Space Research released satellite data showing a sharp month-on-month rise in deforestation over the last year, Bolsonaro slammed it as lies, sacking the director and placing a military official in the role.
His approach, however, has won praise from far right supporters and has largely been seen as a signal to cattle farmers and loggers to illegally clear swathes of rainforest for ranching, logging and agriculture. There is abundant evidence that the fires this year are mostly caused by humans, deliberately lit to meet that end, with no consequence to date.
French President Emmanuel Macron has joined forces with Ireland in threatening to block a trade deal with South America unless Brazil takes action. It is now a subject for the upcoming G7 summit (Group of Seven), a gathering of the largest advanced economies in the world.
Despite Bolsonaro calling this a ‘colonial mindset’, the international pressure has lead him to mobilise the military in an apparent effort to help contain the fires and enforce environmental laws, while he continues a push for policies that will only increase motivations for deforestation.
Lungs of the Planet
The Amazon is considered the ‘lungs of the planet’ and its continued degradation would have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.
Not only does it produce 20% of the world’s oxygen, it acts as a carbon sink, absorbing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year. The fires are directly releasing this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
That’s not to mention the impact on the health of millions, especially the elderly and children, due to smoke. On Monday, the city of São Paulo went dark at 3pm from the heavy smoke billowing from the fires in the North.
Its ongoing degradation would also cause a devastating loss to biodiversity. The Amazon is the most biologically diverse place on Earth and home to 10% of Earth’s species.
And we haven’t even mentioned the rights of the million or so isolated indigenous tribes people that still live in the Amazon…
What can you do as an Australian?
While the oppostion labor party has spoken out, we are yet to hear from the Australian Government on this unfolding environmental disaster.
Australia Imports A$904 million from Brazil annually, and has a two-way trade of $3,590 million.
Write to your local federal MP to let them know how you feel about our trade deals with Brazil. Cc Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley MP and Minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham and their shadows. You'll find their contact details below.
Urge them to do everything they can to encourage the Brazilian Government to protect the Amazon from raging fires and illegal clearing. We need our money-driven government to join the international community in condemning the industry-at-all-costs culture this new President is driving.
Sign the Change.org petition from Rio Branco lawyer Gabriel Santos living in the heart of the Amazon, asking the authorities to set up an inquiry to investigate the increase in fires and to hold the culprits to account. You can find it here.
Every minute, almost 50 acres of rainforest are lost forever and critically endangered species lose their habitat. Donate to the Rainforest Trust, who purchase and protect the most threatened tropical forests in the world, saving endangered wildlife through partnerships and community engagement.
On a final note, in some ways Bolsonaro is right. Who are we to judge the actions of one government half a world away? It’s all well and good fighting for the globally vital Amazon, as many have for decades. However, we also need to look in our own back yards. At our own country’s policies, and our own purchasing and lifestyle habits.
Buy wisely and conservatively. Do you really need it? Yes? Is there a second-hand option? Is it reusable? Is there a non-plastic version? Is the plastic recycled (preferred) or recyclable? Is the product made using fair trade practices? From a sustainable source?
If there is one thing we can take away from the Amazon burning, let it be that we better educate ourselves, that we try and do better in our own lives, that we pressure big business to improve their sustainability and that we lobby our own Government to drive positive changes.
To find your local MP to write to, click here.
CC these Government stakeholders:
Hon Simon Birmingham, Senator - Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment (Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate)
(08) 8354 1644
1300 301 638
Hon Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment
(02) 6021 3264
(02) 6964 1212
Terri Butler MP, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water
(07) 3397 1674
Madeleine King MP, Shadow Minister for Trade
(08) 9527 9377
Please address MPs as The Hon. <name>, MP and Senators as Senator the Hon. <name>, and keep it polite. Thank you.