The Amazon Is Burning
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Amazon rainforest. It is home to three million individual species of plant and animal as well as more than one million indigenous people. The oxygen created by its dense plant life accounts for about 20 percent of the oxygen in our Earth’s atmosphere. Each year, it absorbs millions of tons of carbon emissions. And it is on fire.
Fires are, to some extent, a normal part of the rainforest’s cycle. However, data released by Brazil’s space research agency INPE shows that there have been 72,843 wildfires in the Amazon from January to August 2019. This is an 80 percent increase from last year, so it would appear that these fires are anything but normal.
So what’s causing the Amazon to burn?
Like those in California, most of the wildfires in the Amazon are started by humans and then spiral out of control. Many of them are started in order to clear trees to make way either to plant more lucrative crops or to clear land for cattle grazing. More forest was cleared in Brazil this year so far than in the last three years combined and each year an area of Amazon rainforest larger than the city of Los Angeles disappears forever.
Often, fires in the Amazon are controlled by the region’s heavy rainfall. But here is where a darkly ironic catch-22 comes into play. Much of the rain in the Amazon rainforest is generated by the rainforest itself. So, as the forest shrinks, it becomes drier, exposing itself more greatly to the threat of fires. Deforestation begets deforestation.
How important is the Amazon anyway?
The Amazon rainforest is one of the greatest natural treasures of our Earth. Its health, in many ways, is our entire planet’s health.
The Amazon accounts for 50 percent of all tropical rain forests on Earth. Rain forests are biodiversity hotspots, where thousands of species of plant and animal cohabit in harmony. They are also massively important for keeping Earth’s rising temperatures in check. A study by the European Geosciences Union found that land cleared for human use is, on average 10°C–that’s about 18°F–warmer than forested land.
In addition, it’s estimated that an astounding one in 10 of the world’s animal species live in Amazonia.
It’s all about connections. The forest keeps us healthy, but only if we care for and protect it. This is the meaning of One Health. At EcoHealth Alliance, we strive to explain those connections, to conduct research which makes the implications of ignoring them clear. Each of us is only as healthy as the plants and animals with which we share our world.
Stated simply, we must protect the Amazon because we can’t afford to not. Its myriad benefits are irreproducible elsewhere in the world.
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