Flames engulfed the Amazon Basin over the course of three weeks. Though climate change has been a major factor in catalyzing many blazes, these recent fires were intentionally set by farmers in response to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s calls to develop the region for agricultural purposes. The intended outcome resulted in devastating fires that exploits the earth’s natural resources.
The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and emits about 6% of Earth’s oxygen. Not only is the Amazon a predominant factor in the production of oxygen that cleans the atmosphere, it is also a massive reservoir of carbon that slows down climate change. Moreover, the Amazon is home to the largest concentration of biodiversity on the planet. When these forests are cut down, the habitats of plants and animals are destroyed, and many species risk extinction. If another 10% of the ecosystem is lost, the remaining rainforest will sustain irreversible damage and dry up into a savannah.
Yet, deforestation and fires have surged since Bolsonaro took office in January with his pledge to open the rainforest to development. With Brazil’s economy struggling, Bolsonaro sees the Amazon as the country’s greatest exploitable resource. Under his command, the majority of fires burning in the Amazon started in pursuit of mining, logging, and agriculture. To further his agenda, Bolsonaro packed his cabinet with climate-change deniers and agribusiness executives, as well as reduced staff and funding for Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, who are responsible for enforcing environmental laws.
Bolsonaro’s government is pushing towards a campaign to block environmental protection programs. The goal is to facilitate construction projects like dams, bridges, and roads in the Amazon. Although these developments would be beneficial for humans, it would ultimately disrupt the natural functions of the ecosystem and make illegal logging and mining operations easier to bypass. With the encouragement of the Brazilian government, deforestation of the Amazon has surged to the highest level in a decade.
The Amazon rainforest provides tremendous value when intact, and its destruction has tremendous costs. In order to effectively manage forests without endangering rare species and risk global environmental damage, it is imperative that companies do not clear large areas of forest and should be required to plant new trees after completing their service. As a community, the world must be careful not to destroy these important ecosystems or else future generations will be deprived of these essential resources.