The Record-Breaking Amazon Rainforest Fires Could Be Detrimental to the Earth

The Earth cannot survive without the Amazon.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Aug. 22 2019, Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

amazon rainforest fire
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Illegal burning clears brush and small trees in order to clear land for agriculture in an already deforested section of Amazon rainforest on June 11, 2012 in Para state, Brazil.

One of the world's most valuable resources is the Amazon rainforest, which produces more than 20 percent of the planet's oxygen and is home to the most biodiversity in the world. But thanks to the way humans are treating the Earth, we're losing more and more of the Amazon every day. According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), fires have been burning through Brazil's Amazon rainforest this year at the highest rate on record. Read on to learn why these fires are happening — and what you can do about it.

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As reported by CNN, INPE has been tracking fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest since 2013. So far, between January and August of this year, there have been 72,843 fires in Brazil, where 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is located. That is an 80 percent increase from January through August of 2018. These fires are destroying the Amazon rainforest — and as the rainforest loses more and more trees and biodiversity, the less effective it will be at slowing down the climate crisis.

In addition to providing more than one-fifth of the planet's oxygen, the rainforest's trees also store vast amounts of carbon, which keeps that carbon out of the atmosphere, therefore reducing the amount of heat the atmosphere absorbs, known as global warming. According to the BBC, the rainforest contains roughly 3 million different species of animals and plants — that's more biodiversity than anywhere else on Earth, Mongabay noted. 

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While fires destroying the Amazon will have a negative impact on the entire planet, residents of Brazil are witnessing the worst parts firsthand. This week, the wildfires caused the sky over São Paulo, Brazil to become overcast with smoke, making the middle of the day look like nighttime, BuzzFeed reported. Many residents shared photos of the striking sky on Twitter.

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So, what is causing all these fires? In recent decades, human activity has lead to significant deforestation in the Amazon. Over the past 50 years, 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down and destroyed by humans, 80 percent of which is for cattle ranching (to produce beef and dairy), according to the WWF. Most of the rest of the deforestation in the Amazon is due to illegal logging, harvesting palm oil, and growing soy to feed livestock (about 67 percent of the world's soy is grown to feed livestock). 

As explained by a NASA study, cutting down trees interrupts the Amazon's natural rain patterns, which leads to droughts. Interestingly, for most of history, the Amazon's natural high humidity actually helped keep the rainforest fire-resistant, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But thanks to the increasing deforestation and droughts in recent years, the Amazon has become more susceptible to fires. 

Additionally, it's widely believed that developers are actually setting parts of the Amazon rainforest ablaze to clear-cut land for cattle ranches and other developments.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who has threatened to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement and said that he wants to develop the Amazon, responded to the news this week by blaming the fires on non-governmental organizations. He said in a Facebook Live that "everything indicates" that non-governmental organizations are setting fire to the Amazon rainforest, as a response to his administration cutting funding to NGOs, Reuters reported. However, when asked for evidence to support that theory, he had none to provide, and said, “that’s not how it’s done,” as per Reuters.

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Without the support needed from the Brazilian government, the Amazon rainforest could be in major trouble — meaning the climate will continue to change for the worse. A few things you can do to reduce your personal contribution to the Amazon's deforestation are: eliminate beef and dairy from your diet; donate to organizations fighting to protect the Amazon, such as Amazon Watch; avoid buying food, furniture, or paper that came from the Amazon; stop purchasing food and other products made with palm oil, another significant cause of rainforest deforestation; and on Friday, Aug. 23, join the Extinction Rebellion and protest outside your nearest Brazilian Embassy.

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