Large swaths of the Amazon rainforest are on fire. Media tends to call these wildfires, but the vast majority of them are intentionally set. I think of wildfires as being caused by lightning strike or an accidental spark. When fires are set intentionally, they should be called arson.
While the current scale of the fires is new, the problem is not. For years, farmers and ranchers have burned parts of the Amazon rainforest to clear land for themselves. They have been opposed by indigenous people and their allies, some of whom have been killed trying to defend the forest.
The fires are devastating for the plants, animals, and people who live there, but the scale of the destruction now threatens the very mechanism that makes the rainforest possible. The vegetation, especially the large, tall trees, transpire large quantities of water, which form clouds and help to keep the rainforest green. If too much land is burned, the amount of rainfall will decrease so much that it would be impossible to sustain a rainforest ecosystem.
Plants also take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s atmospheric oxygen is produced in the Amazon. As more and more of the rainforest is destroyed, the level of oxygen in the air that all people and animals need to breathe could diminish, while the level of carbon dioxide, already at record highs, could become even higher, accelerating global warming and increasing drought, which diminishes plant growth and causes a downward spiral.
The government of Brazil is making only half-hearted measures to control the fires and has refused the assistance of other nations. President Bolsonaro is a climate change denier, who sees this issue as being solely about the economic development of Brazil. His short-sighted actions may cause world-wide suffering for decades.
It highlights to me how interconnected we are as a planet. At this point in human history, we can’t afford countries being isolationist and concerned only with making their rich citizens even richer.
Money can’t buy oxygen or make more rainfall or change the temperature.