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Brazil, Bolsonaro and burning biodiversity

Photo courtesy of Gustavo Basso/Getty

For three weeks, the world’s largest rainforest—that spans over eight countries and covers 40% of South America—has been burning.

The Amazon rainforest produces about 20% of earth’s oxygen and is referred to as the planet’s lungs, according to CNN.

Not only is the Amazon rainforest vastly important for its production of oxygen, it is also home to a large variety of different species. About 30 million people live in the Amazon, and with this blazing fire taking no specific route, the outcome is unknown. 

Wildfires are common in any forest, and the Amazon is most prone to fires between July and mid-November. 

However, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) data shows an 84% increase in fires from the same time last year. To give perspective, INPE shared that with every minute, more than one-and-a-half soccer fields are being burned and destroyed. 

While the Amazon’s naturally produced moisture and humidity make it rather resistant to wildfires, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the combination of droughts with the burning and illegal clearing of land for cattle has resulted in a catastrophic episode of unceasing fire. 

“The vast majority of these fires are human-lit. Even during the dry seasons, the Amazon cannot catch fire easily like the dry bushlands of California or Australia,” said Program Director of the non-profit organization Amazon Watch, Christian Poirier. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 20% of the wider Amazon biome, including not only the rainforest but also adjacent regions, have been lost to farming, mining, roads and hydropower.

With the Amazon rainforest continuously burning, there is a risk of losing an important “sink” for carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is mainly emitted from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gasses. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and absorb it for photosynthesis, using the carbon to grow and release oxygen in return. 

Not only is this wildfire increasing the emission of carbon dioxide, it could potentially mean the loss of a large contributor of oxygen. 

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro is facing many attacks from environmental groups as they believe he is the one who endangered the Amazon with loose environmental controls and supporting deforestation. 

Bolsonaro promised during his campaign to restore Brazil’s economy by looking into Amazon’s economic potential, and since his election, he has cut the nation’s budget for environmental enforcement by $23 million, according to CNN. He is now facing backlash as environmental groups believe he is the one to blame.

“Bolsonaro’s promises, action, and general pro-business stance may have emboldened ranchers, farmers and logger sot seize control of a growing area of Amazon land,” said Executive Secretary of Observatorio do Clima, Carlos Rittl. 

Bolsonaro’s defense to these accusations in regards to the fire was, “We took money away from the NGOs [and] they are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding. So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government.” 

When offered the sum of $20 million from Group of Seven (G7) to help fight these wildfires, the Brazilian government rejected the aid. Bolsonaro appeared an hour later and said, “Did I say that? Did I? Did Jair Bolsonaro speak?” and ultimately accepted the aid. 

At the G7 summit hosted in France, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera announced the new two-step process to fight the wildfires, including working with the Amazonian countries to handle the imminent emergency and focus on long-term reforestation and protection of the forest’s biodiversity.