BEZAWADA: Amazon fires critical issue, impact us all

Column: Traipse the Fine Line

At some point, every city goes dark. You just do not notice it. The hubbub of commuters, students and people from all walks of life navigating busy streets and the bright billboards emblazoned with dynamic, animated ads light up the city well enough to render day and night obsolete. 

Humans warp the world around them as they see fit and trust it to work. They depend on it. But on a Monday in late August, one city went dark. At 3 p.m. on Aug. 19, São Paulo,  a municipality in the southeast region of Brazil, plunged into total darkness. The normally bright blue sky choked on pungent fumes of smoke.

The Amazon rainforest — the lungs of the Earth — is on fire more than 1,850 miles away.

The Amazon is the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, home to a wider range of biodiversity than anywhere else on Earth and 305 distinct ethnic groups of indigenous people. Most importantly, it is receding fast. Of the massive forest, 1.4 million hectares were razed each year between 2001 and 2012, averaging up to 17.7 million hectares altogether. If that rate persists, 48 million hectares, or nearly 30%, of the forest will be extinguished permanently.

But the rate is not persisting. It is getting faster.

Deforestation has reached alarming rates, a shocking increase of approximately 67% under Brazil’s far-Right president Jair Bolsonaro who intends to ensure that the forest is open to industrialization. Under his watch, deforestation rates have soared tremendously. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded 72,843 fires since the start of this year, with 9,000 spotted the week of Aug. 19 alone. 

The fires were visible from space, according to NASA. When these discoveries were published, Bolsonaro fired physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, the head of the INPE, condemning the numbers as “lies” fabricated to slander Brazil and its government. 

Due to natural moisture and humidity, the rainforest has been historically resistant to wildfires and heatwaves. In fact, unlike drought-plagued California whose forests are now so dry meltdowns spark at the single fumble of a cigarette flame, the Amazon in its remarkable natural solidity retains its moisture. Therefore, it should be able to withstand the recent onslaught of fires.

But how can it when there are no trees to begin with?

Ecologist Adriane Muelbert confirms that the definite cause of the weakening rainforest is deforestation. Sections of the forest are being sawed off to make space for soy plantations and cattle pastures, both lucrative, profitable industries that would improve the economic conditions of Brazil, but in the long run this measure can only prove disastrous. The effects are already visible thousands of miles of way in major urban centers and even in outer space. 

The rainforest is self-sufficient: It triggers its own rainfall. But as more and more trees are removed, the ability of the rainforest to generate rainfall decreases and the land dries. This forces corporations to clear larger spaces, causing yet again another spell of savannah-like conditions, and the self-destructive cycle spirals ever closer to the point of never going back.

The extreme negative impact this steep climb in deforestation has on biodiversity is self-explanatory. The Amazon rainforest in all its immense girth has carved out a precise, inimitable habitat its residents have evolved over millions of years to acclimate to. But the loss of the forest poses an equally strong cultural threat to the indigenous communities that settled there thousands of years ago. Many of them live so deep in the forest that they remain untouched by and unaware of the modern era. 

Survival International senior researcher Sarah Shenker equates the destruction of the rainforest to genocide of the unique tribal societies. Marta, a member of the Guaraní tribe, stated: “We Indians are like plants. How can we live without our soil, without our land? We exist. I want to tell the world that we are alive and want to be respected as peoples.”

Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thurnberg recently addressed the United Nations with a fiery speech that lashed out at the authorities responsible for the many obstacles in the path of climate justice. 

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing,” she said to the discomfort of many adults in the room. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

In many more ways that we cannot see and take for granted, the forest is home to all of us. Up to 140 billion metric tons of carbon are stored there, and it is slowly suffocating the planet. Our survival as a species is rooted in the soil of the Amazon. If we do not protect it now, we will burn along with it.

Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School junior majoring in Marketing and double-minoring in Japanese and digital communications and information media. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line,” runs every alternate Wednesday.

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