The Damage Being Done To The Amazon Rainforest Has Taken A Turn For The Worse

Remember back in 1971 when Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax? The book foresaw that capital gain would be the ultimate catalyst to the destruction of the environment, and the warning is as relevant as ever today. The Amazon rainforest isn’t just home to a tenth of all species that we know of, it also provides a fifth of all the oxygen that we breathe.

Burning rainforests in order to develop the land into money-making machines is nothing new. What is new is the speed at which this is happening. Particularly with new policies set forth by Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, the accelerated rate has scientists predicting catastrophic results. Here’s a look at the Amazon fires and how they’re changing the world.

Welcome To São Paulo

A view of São Paulo's skyscrapers shows dark grey skies over a nearly black city.
Andre Lucas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Andre Lucas/picture alliance via Getty Images

Before we even get to the actual rainforest, this is a picture of metropolitan São Paulo. If you’re wondering why it looks like Armageddon, it’s not because of some artistic filter. The sky is literally turning black over the city due to the rainforest fires in the Amazon.

If you don’t believe us, just look to the millions of residents who have reported black rain in São Paulo. University studies have confirmed that the rainwater does, in fact, contain residue from the fires burning up Amazonia. According to the director of the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo, the soot may produce toxic substances harmful to the people of São Paulo.

Prince Harry Took A Trip to São Paulo Back In 2014

Prince Harry shoves the dirt around a small tree he's planted.
Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images
Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images

Now let’s go back to the days before São Paolo was without light. Here is a photo of Prince Harry circa 2014 planting a tree. During this trip, he visited with people of São Paolo on his tour of Mata Atlantica, or the Atlantic Rainforest.

The Atlantic Rainforest, though it still has a host of necessary benefits to humanity, is far smaller than the Amazon rainforest. A map shows that Brazil is home to portions of both rainforests, and at the time of the Prince’s visit, the Atlantic rainforest is where he planted this tree. Little did they know that a handful of years later, trees being burned in Amazonia would nearly paint the town black.

This Many Amazon Fires Were Recorded Just In 2019

An aerial view shows a large mass of smoke billowing through the forest.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

This photograph shows Rondonia, a part of the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, being burned up on August 23, 2019. According to the National Institute of Space Research, more than 74,000 fires in Brazil have been recorded this year alone, and 40,000 of those were in the Amazon. Researcher Jarlene Gomes says that the risk of the Amazon being unable to recover is big, “Because when fire hits the forest, we have no way to control it.”

Ironically, “Rainforests don’t normally burn,” says the lead researcher at Lancaster Environment Centre. He continues, “But human activities are making them much more flammable.” That’s because the wildlife is degraded by human activity which can result in drier, less defensive forests.

Here’s What They’re Doing

A helicopter shot reveals a large mass of land that has been deforested amongst the lush rainforest.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s another shot of Rondonia, but from higher up. You can see the lush green of the rainforest turn into stark browns and yellows where deforestation has occurred. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, more global greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation than from every car, truck, and bus combined.

Greenhouses gases get their name because their buildup in the atmosphere can cause the Earth to act like a greenhouse. Sunlight enters the Earth’s atmosphere, and when the sun sets and it’s time for the Earth to cool, the heat cannot escape.

Brazil’s Largest Women’s Graffiti Event

Women paint a brick wall at Cem Minas Na Rua 2019.
Andre Lucas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Andre Lucas/picture alliance via Getty Images

On August 24, 2019, São Paulo held their “Cem Minas Na Rua 2019.” The graffiti event involved 126 artists. Though it revolved around female empowerment, many artists felt compelled to defend Mother Earth, especially in a city that went dark the same week as the event.

The picture above shows one scene at the graffiti event. A hand holds a flaming lighter to a map of Brazil right where the Amazon forest sits. The Environmental Defense Fund says that approximately 120 billion tons of carbon are stored in the Amazon and half the annual rainfall. NASA labels water vapor and carbon dioxide as two of the six greenhouse gases. The concern is that they’ll be released by the Amazon in too grand of proportions.

The Vicious Cycle

Cows graze in a clearing in front of trees submerged in smoke.
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images

This photo shows cattle grazing near land that’s gone up in smoke. The deforestation process is largely due to a need for more pastures for livestock. There are already about 1.4 million cows on the planet, and thanks to their three stomachs, they give off a lot of gas, 90% of which comes through their burps.

According to Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund, menthane alone accounts for 25% of global warming because it is so potent, despite carbon dioxide being the most prevalent. The forest soil contains bacteria that consume methane. So as forest soil is destroyed by fires, livestock is moved in, and methane has nowhere to go but up.

This Laborer Also Got Burned

A profile shot of a laborer reveals flames engulfing the land before him.
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images

This laborer watches as he loses his farm to a fire that spread from the southern Amazon to Nova Santa Helena. Clearing land via forest fires during the dry season has aggravated the issue. While rocket-high numbers of forest fires give the illusion that this is a average practice, it still is illegal. An 85% increase in forest fires over the same period last year illustrates the grandiosity of the problem.

What’s worse is that of the 40,000 Amazon fires in 2019, 25,000 of them took place in August alone according to the National Institue of Space Research.

That Isn’t Fog. It’s Smoke.

Trucks blare their headlights while driving down a densely smokey road.
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images
JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images

Also in Nova Santa Helena, a highway is submerged in smoke. Trucks must use their headlights to navigate through the fog-like smoke. What’s strange about the rapid increase in Brazil’s fires is that in 2005, Brazil’s annual deforestation rate dropped. The rate dropped from 27,000 square kilometers a year to 4,500 per year in 2012.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the decrease was caused by creating national parks, recognizing indigenous lands, and enforcing forest protection laws. For this reason, many have looked at the new President of Brazil, who entered office in January, as an obvious link to the rapid shift in progress.

Possibly The Most Hated Man, According To This Guy

Jair Bolsonaro smiles to his audience at an event.
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

In his interview with The Guardian, Brazil’s former environment minister Rubens Ricupero states that the man pictured above is one of the most hated men of all right now. That’s the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, to whom Ricupero refers when he says, “I can’t see anyone else– not even Duterte in the Philippines…not Trump, not anyone– who today provokes so much anger.”

Ricupero accuses Bolsonaro of thinking that the Amazon should be colonized. At the very least, he accuses the President of Brazil of not protecting the Amazon and essentially giving the criminals who have set it afire the go-ahead by opening it up to industry.

Tear Gas Was Used In This Protest

Two Bolivian protestors exit the rainforest amongst clouds of tear gas.
STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

The fight to preserve the Amazon in the name of climate change has raged against right-wing industrialists for years. In this photograph, Amazonian natives are tear-gassed by riot police while trying to protest a highway being built through a Bolivian rainforest back in 2011.

The Environmental Defense Funds deems the late 1960s as the time when Brazil began deforestation at “an alarming rate.” Prior to that, clearing land was a practice that didn’t really cause too much alarm. Advances in technology, met with increased population, has created a war over how we should treat the planet.

It Isn’t Just Brazil

A man looks out to thick smoke rising from the forest in Bolivia.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images

Further, it’s important to remember that the Amazon rainforest does not belong solely to Brazil. While Brazil does occupy about 60% of it, even the countries who occupy less than 10% of it have been gravely affected.

This man pictured on August 24, 2019, looks at a fire in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Bolivian firefighters have struggled to protect the now 1.6 million acres of burned tropical forest, according to Reuters. Though Bolivian lawmakers cry for an investigation against farmers, many ranchers were taken aback by the fire. Bolivian rancher Ludwig Weder told Reuters that he risked his life to save his cattle.

All Of South America Is Impacted

A road full of walking civilians and trucks is engulfed by thick smoke.
Adolfo Lino/picture alliance via Getty Images
Adolfo Lino/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to Business Insider, as of August 23, 2019, Brazil’s neighboring cities have experienced fires well into the thousands, too. Bolivia comes in second with more than 17,400. Paraguay, which is most harshly impacted in its southern areas, is at just below 10,000. Meanwhile, Colombia, to the North, is at 14,000.

Additionally, Venezuela is second on the list. Though its media coverage hasn’t been as extensive, the northern-most South American country has had a whopping 26,500, a third of Brazil’s total. These countries surround the Amazon, which helps paint a picture of a rainforest encapsulated by fire.

This Is What Firefighters Have To Do

The Bolivian fire department secures the burnt land in the forest by mopping up.
Gaston Brito/picture alliance via Getty Images
Gaston Brito/picture alliance via Getty Images

Fire department units in San Juan, Bolivia were photographed on August 25, 2019 while “mopping up.” The process is a vital, and tedious, part of preventing the forest fires from relighting. Firefighters go through and systematically look for embers and hot spots. While putting out a forest fire can be a long process, keeping it out can be just as long.

While Brazil may consider clearing lands for cattle necessary given the fact that they are the world’s largest beef exporter (providing about 20% of the total beef exported), the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, calls the Amazon fires a “crime against humanity,” reports CNN.

Bolivia And California Now Have Something In Common

Heavy smoke blocks the sun as a silhouetted helicopter carries water towards the flames.
Adolfo Lino/picture alliance via Getty Images
Adolfo Lino/picture alliance via Getty Images

A decade ago, the second Supertanker to be built debuted in America to fight the Oak Glen Fire after success fighting another fire in Spain. Then in 2016, a third 747 Supertanker was developed by. The new and improved edition was contracted by US officials to fight the California wildfires of 2017.

Now in 2019, the Global Supertanker has made its way from Sacramento to Bolivia to aid in their fight against deforestation. The jet can drop up to 19,000 gallons of liquid. The Colorado-based company that created the jet posted on Facebook that the jet made at least 10 trips throughout the weekend.

People Live In The Amazon, Too

Three young indigenous watch as a older boy shoots an arrow into the treetops.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Peru, half of which rests in the Amazon rainforest, is one of the few homes of indigenous tribes who live completely without contact with modern society and who are completely autonomous. France 24 says that the Peruvian Amazon is home to about 4,500 people who belong to 16 indigenous communities who live in voluntary isolation.

Another 2,500 people, who belong to three different tribes, have rare contact with others. Much of the indigenous people’s reluctance to have anything to do with modern society has to do with a turbulent historical past with colonizers. Native tribes treat their land differently than the developed world does.

When Will We Stop Taking Their Land?

Three indigenous boys sit amongst burned trees in the forest.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Despite indigenous cultures managing to live off the jungle without harming it, those hungry to colonize still push forth into the Amazon, sometimes burning down territory that isn’t theirs. Outsiders can displace communities from their habitats. It isn’t just farming that can lead to this, though.

In January of 2018, Peru’s parliament voted to construct a road through the Amazon for the sake of tourism. The push to build quickly comes from a deep desire to start pumping out money from tourists, and that leads to minimal surveillance. Without concern for the people who inhabit the rainforest, how can we ever care about the rainforest itself?

Countries Surrounding The Amazon Want To Speak

A motorcyclist rides down the highwa
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Peru’s highway is basked in smoke. São Paulo has gone dark. Bolivia is getting rained on by America’s Supertanker. And Venezuela, Paraguay, and Colombia are experiencing 10 to 20 thousand fires related to the Amazon. South America desperately needs to come together.

According to the Havana Times, “Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry said the government was calling a meeting of the foreign and environment ministers of Brazil, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia. Paraguay and Peru have already agreed, according to the statement.” As fires threaten to encroach on residences, a meeting of the minds becomes imperative.

This Is One Of The Leaders In Protests

A female member of Extinction Rebellion holds up a sign that reads,
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

The woman pictured here is a part of Extinction Rebellion, an organization that has headed some of the global protests raging against deforestation. According to their website, the movement seeks to encourage awareness. “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency…. “[W]e are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.”

The website outlines the science behind climate change, and lists three demands for the government. First, the government should tell the truth by admitting that this is an emergency. Second, the government must act now to reduce emissions to net zero by 2025. Third, the government must create a citizen assembly to lead climate and ecological justice.

International Pressure Might Save The Amazons

Young ladies in a crowd in Argentina hold a petition that reads
Carol Smiljan/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Carol Smiljan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The women holding a petition reading, “We defend the Amazon” in Spanish illustrate the international response to the crisis. Newsweek writes that Brazilian embassies all over Europe have become flooded with protestors. Major cities include London, Paris, Zurich, Berlin, Madrid, and Milan.

According to polls, most Brazilians want to save the Amazon. However, Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher with the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo says, “Politicians in Brazil pay more attention to international pressure than the voice of Brazilians. I think international pressure is essential to reverse this tragic pathway.”

Where Does Bolsonaro Stand Now?

An aerial view shows burned, cleared land surrounding a building in northwestern Brazil.
LULA SAMPAIO/AFP/Getty Images
LULA SAMPAIO/AFP/Getty Images

Carlos Nobre may have been right about international pressure being the key to get the Brazilian government to act. The Guardian noted that Germany and Norway halted donations to the Brazilian Amazon fund just one day before Jair Bolsonaro sent 44,000 troops to assist in combatting the fires in the Amazon.

According to NBC News, the G-7 Summit in France offered $20 million to Brazil in their efforts to fight the fires. Bolsonaro declined, questioning the motivation behind foreign aid. Two days later, Trump tweeted that Bolsonaro “is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy.” Let’s hope he’s right.