The Amazon rainforest has been burning at record rates this year — with thousands of fires alone occurring in the past week. The world has suddenly woken up to the tragic fires tearing apart the rainforest, which can reportedly be seen from outer space, according to USA Today.
As the fires (and the news) continue to spread, people all over the world are left with questions about the fires, how they started, and why the Amazon rainforest is so important to the planet. Read on for our answers to a few of these key questions, and make sure to keep educating yourself on these issues as they continue to unfold.
Why Is the Amazon Rainforest on Fire?
Humans have clear-cut 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest over the past 50 years to produce beef, dairy, palm oil, paper products, wood, soybeans to feed livestock, and more. In fact, cattle ranching actually accounts for more than 80 percent of this deforestation, according to the WWF.
This deforestation interrupts the Amazon’s natural rain patterns, which reduces humidity and causes droughts. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Amazon actually used to be fire-resistant thanks to its high humidity — but now, with less humidity, less trees, and more droughts, the Amazon can more easily catch fire.
And most interestingly, there's the possibility that people are purposely setting the rainforest on fire.
Are People Setting the Amazon Rainforest on Fire?
Many experts allege that cattle ranch developers are actually setting fires in the Amazon rainforest to quickly clear land for developments — including Ane Alencar, scientific director of the non-profit organization IPAM Amazonia. "The fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation," Alencar said, according to Mongabay. "[Developers] cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil."
Additionally, the Sunrise Movement tweeted a video — that has gone viral — of an indigenous Pataxó woman crying and stating that cattle ranchers have been deliberately starting fires in the rainforest. "For two years we’ve fought to preserve [our reservation] and these assholes came in & burned it down," she says in the video, according to Sunrise Movement's translation. "They are killing our rivers, our sources of life, and now they have set our reserve on fire. Tomorrow we are closing the roads and I want all the media here to see this."
Why Is the Amazon Rainforest So Important?
The Amazon rainforest is known as the "planet's lungs," because it provides more than 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen. The rainforest also removes vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and stores it, which can help slow down global warming. Additionally, the rainforest is home to more than 3 million species of plants and animals, representing the most biodiversity in the world, the BBC noted.
One of the 3 million species that includes? Humans. Millions of indigenous people live in the Amazon rainforest — so not only are we hurting the planet with this deforestation, but we are also hurting the people who live there.
Click here to learn more about indigenous people who live in the Amazon.
What Is Brazil's Government Doing About This?
Unfortunately for the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is not prioritizing setting new protections for the rainforest. Even though many experts recognize that developers are the ones setting fire to the rainforest, Bolsonaro instead put that blame on non-governmental organizations whose funding the Brazil government had recently cut. He made the unsubstantiated claim in a Facebook Live this week, even stating, "that’s not how it’s done" when asked if he had any evidence to back up his theory, Reuters reported.
Many people took to Twitter to criticize the Brazilian president for not taking more action to protect the rainforest — and his actions aren't much of a surprise, considering past comments he's made about wanting to further develop the Amazon.
What Can We Do to Save the Amazon?
No matter how far you live from the Amazon rainforest, you are probably benefiting from all that it gives to the Earth. Here are a few things you can do to show your support:
- Donate to highly rated charities that are fighting to protect the Amazon, such as Amazon Watch.
- Stop eating beef and dairy — here's our guide to eating more plant-based food.
- Don’t purchase products made with palm oil — even if it's labeled sustainable or rainforest-certified palm oil.
- On Friday, Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. local time, Extinction Rebellion is hosting global protests outside of local Brazilian Embassies.
- Educate your friends and social media followers on this issue, using the hashtags #PrayForAmazonia and #SaveTheAmazon.
- No matter where you live, when election time comes, vote for candidates who are working to protect the environment.