What Happens when the Forest Disappears?

Last year, record-breaking fires ripped through Brazil. The country's National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, INPE) reported that more than 80,000 fires plagued the country, intensifying in August.

More than half of the fires took place in the Amazon. According to data from the INPE, further confirmed by NASA, the Amazon biome lost over 906 hectares of forest to the 2019 fires.

When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, he promised to open the Amazon rainforest to private interests. This blatant lack of regard towards forest conservation, and the lax government enforcement of environmental policies, encouraged many of his supporters to burn down the forest to clear land for business interests. Bolsonaro has also shown little to no interest in the indigenous tribes that populate many regions in the Amazon because slash-and-burn policies also involve forced displacement.

Initially, Bolsonaro insisted that non-profit organizations set these massive fires to undermine his authority. He has provided no evidence to back up his claims since then. He also fired the head of the INPE in a dispute over the agency's report showing the increase in deforestation ever since he took office.

International outrage was at its highest when politicians, celebrities, and protesters raised the alarm against an immense surge in Amazon fires. Following enormous external pressure and the threat of canceled trade deal between the European Union and the Southern Common Free Market, Jair Bolsonaro dispatched forty-four thousand military troops to combat the wildfires, and then later signed a 60-day ban to prevent more burning.

Often described as the 'lungs of the Earth,' the Amazon forest is home to 10 percent of the world's biodiversity, and it is also a defensive wall against global warming, absorbing heat-trapping carbon dioxide in its trees and soil. The moisture from its trees also affects rainfall patterns and climate across South America and beyond.

Much is to be said about the effect of human actions and the burden of climate change on the environment, and the time to act may have passed. Researchers have warned that the Amazon might not be able to adapt fast enough to shifting conditions.

And every time a tree burns, we get closer to the point of no return.

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