Wildfires aren’t part of the natural ecosystem in a rainforest. So why is the Amazon burning? The real question should be, who’s burning the rainforest and who’s responsible for it? In August, pictures began surfing through social media and the entire world realized that our biggest rainforest was on fire. In the Amazon, forest fires aren’t part of the natural environment, at least not to the extent of recent times. Fires in the Amazon are linked to the politics in Brazil. The rainforest is being deforested more than ever before and human activities are main cause of the fires. During the month of August, ranchers begin to burn the landscape to prepare for pasture and crops (Image 1) (Sandy, 2019).
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The Amazon is home to 30% of the world’s known species and has roughly 390 billion trees. Even though the Amazon is a rainforest, it still experiences some fires. Most of these fires are due to human causes rather than natural causes. Agricultural burning, deforestation and illegal logging are some of the cause of anthropogenic fires. Slash-and-burn method is used to make space on landscape for logging, mining, livestock or agriculture (Stewart, 2019).
The Amazon forest has the biggest biodiversity on earth. The forest structure consist of multiple layers; under-story, sub-canopy, canopy and sometimes a developing layer. Small trees and shrubs are found in the understory portion. Palms and other trees that wait for a light opening are located in the subcanopy layer. The canopy layer consist of continuous coverage and averages 25-30 meters in height (Amazon Forest Ecology). Fires in the Amazon aren’t rare, especially during years of drought such as 2005, 2010 and 2016. The fires from this year aren’t normal because precipitation has been normal or above normal during May-July. A warmer environment increases evapotranspiration rates which then leads to water stress for vegetation, thus an exposure to fires. However, this year’s climate anomalies can’t support the increase of fire activity. Wildfires burn the understory and the smaller trees which then opens the canopy and makes it drier. This has a negative impact on the forest because it makes it more vulnerable for another fire. The Amazon fires also have a global impact because it increases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which can have an influence on climate change (Pierson, 2019).
The problem with deforestation is connected with illegal logging that are utilizing the rainforest for its natural resource (Givetash, 2019). But its not just deforestation that is nearly destroying the Amazon. Fires are destroying the homes of indigenous tribes and threatening the biodiversity of the rainforest (Moore, 2019). The cause of deforestation in the Amazon has a name; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro became president on January 1, 2019 and ever since, 24 percent of the country’s environmental protection agency has decreased (Moore, 2019). Bolsonaros administration has also canceled multiple environmental fines and even fired the director of the National Institute of Space Research, Ricardo Galvão (Moore, 2019).
Ricardo Galvão supported scientific evidence regarding deforestation in the Amazon. His scientific support cost him his job and left his position in early August of 2019 (Urrutia Elian, 2019). The diminishing environmental laws of the Bolsonaro administration has farmers, ranchers and loggers breaking the law knowing they won’t get punished for it. The environmental laws that aren’t being enforced are allowing agribusiness development and large-scale infrastructure projects (Costa Vasquez, Dey, 2019). But how can we help the Amazon rainforest from diminishing at the rate it is now? The problem starts with Jair Bolsonaro environmental policies and will end once him and his administration are out of office. Bolsonaro and his administration have to go, only then, will the Amazon rainforest have a chance to strive. Bolsonaro isn’t the right president for Brazil because he isn’t made to hold the position of being a president. His anti-environmental laws will only cause more destruction to the rainforest. Finally, if Bolsonaro and his administration aren’t taken out of power, Brazil can lose its unique indigenous reserves that are established in the Amazon rainforest. These groups are essential to the survival of the Amazon because protected lands can avoid further deforestation (Image 2) (Branford, 2019).
The wrong person for the job:
It was a shock to the world when Bolsonaro was elected president. He was well known for his conservative beliefs and at many times, he was suspected of supporting the ideology of fascist (de Carvalho and dos Santos, 2019). During a promotion ceremony on April 2019, Bolsonaro claimed “I was not born to be president, I was born to be a solider” (Telesur, 2019). It’s clearly stated that he doesn’t know how to manage a country. If he can’t manage a country, then he isn’t suited for the presidential position. Bolsonaros presidential election disturbed the political opposition in power therefore it was known as the “critical election”. His election also changed the guard in the Brazilian right because it shifted from “moderate right” to “radical right” (Santos and Tansheit, 2019). Bolsonaro has the mindset of a military man, rather than of politics. During that same promotion ceremony in April, Bolsonaro also claimed that “he does not understand economics” (Chagas-Bustos, 2019). Bolosonaro holds a position that he clearly identifies as not knowing how to do it.
Many people have labeled Jair Bolsonaro as the “Trump of the Tropics”. He isn’t the president that the Amazon rainforest needs in order to receive environmental protection (Rosa-Aquino, 2019). In order to win the presidential elections, Bolsonaro used the same tactic as Donald Trump. He installed emotional drivers into the Brazilian community like fear of being shot, corruption, criminal behavior and unemployment (Chagas-Bastos, 2019). During Trumps presidential campaign, he used this same tactic. Trump targeted the Hispanic community as part of “criminals” which initiated a “Built the Wall” campaign. Bolsonaros tactic of fear as a form of gaining popularity earned him the title of president of Brazil. This worked out very well for Bolsonaro because it neutralized his opponents during the presidential campaign. He doesn’t understand politics, manipulates the Brazilian community and dislikes people who think different from him (Chagas-Bastos, 2019). Jair Bolsonaro is creating a segregated country rather than unifying the community and protecting the Amazon. This is very similar to what we see in the United States today. Problems can’t be solved by segregating a country that has an indigenous population that depends on the rainforest and a government that wants to exploit the rich resources of the rainforest.
Environmental protection for the Amazon rainforest:
The Amazon rainforest is a wet climate ecosystem that isn’t resistant to fire. Typically, when a fire does a occur in the rainforest, the intensity isn’t of high magnitude. With frequent rain patterns, the rainforest sets off its own fires. Slash and burn agriculture is the main cause of the Amazon rainforest because humans cut down trees and then burn the land for economic gains. Farmers burn the land because it recycles the nutrients back into the soil, its inexpensive and it makes space on the landscape (Gregory, 2019). Although this can be a benefit for corporations or local farmers, this isn’t an ecofriendly option for the survival of the rainforest. The Amazon forest holds many valuable services that need protection. This rainforest provides an ecosystem where it holds a great amount of biodiversity. The rainforest holds a big portion of water that recycles itself in order to maintain rainfall patterns in the Amazon. Finally, the Amazon needs to be protected because this rainforest holds carbon which can help reduce global warming (Caralho et al, 2019).
According to Romulo Batista, a Greenpeace campaigner, the data collected by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research shows an increase in deforestation. Batista claims that this dramatic increase in deforestation is due to Bolsonaros “anti-environmental” policies and dialogue (Philllips, 2019). Without any protection for the Amazon, the environment suffer serious human impacts like dam and road construction (Area Leao Pereira et al, 2019).
The forest fires are linked to Jair Bolsonaros environmental policies. In order to win the elections, Bolsonaro followed the same steps to success as Donald Trump. Bolsonaro doesn’t believe in protecting the Amazon rainforest or protecting indigenous tribe lands. This system of belief by Bolsonaro favors the idea of economic growth in the rainforest landscape (The Times Editorial Board, 2019). It’s evident that Bolosnaro is the wrong person administrating Brazil. The Amazon should be protected rather than exploited. Social media argues that the Amazon is burning, but they don’t mention why its burning or what can be done to help suppress the rainforest fires. There’s many options to help suppress fires in the Amazon, but the most effective solution to save the Amazon is removing Bolsonaro and his administration from power. Brazil has experienced intense deforestation before as well as an increase in fires. Rates of deforestation quickly decrease in 2004 due to conservationist policies (Gregory, 2019).
Bolsonaro denies that his administration’s policies are the main cause of the fires. He blames Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of setting fires on purpose and placing the blame on him. Between January 1 and August 24, satellite images were utilized by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (IPNE) that counted more than 41,000 “fire spots”. In 2018, during the same time period, scientist counted about 22,000 fire spots. According to scientists, this is in part due to deforestation (Escobar, 2019). An increase in deforestation, which can lead to more fires, can weaken the Amazons responsibility to stabilize climate at a global scale (Bolsonaro threatens survival of Brazil’s Indigenous population, 2019). It’s necessary for the Amazon to have support from the government in order to continue to strive as the one of the most important biomes of the world. In order to keep up with cattle farmers, soy cultivators and timber exporters, legal systems and public policies should be improved as a way to control deforestation (Caralho et al, 2019).
Indigenous lands at risk:
Brazil can experience a decrease in indigenous populations if deforestation continues to increase. Indigenous tribes living within the rainforest depend on it for their resources. About 1 million Indigenous people live in Brazil. There’s about 300 tribes, of which 100 of them are uncontacted. Bolsonaro has clearly indicated that he would eliminate Indigenous reserves and open the land to loggers, land-grabbers, miners and commercial development (Bolsonaro threatens survival of Brazil’s Indigenous population, 2019).
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During an interview with the Guardian, Ricardo Galvao claimed that the goal of the Brazilian government is to exploit indigenous lands for the purpose of economic development (Phillips, 2019). Bolsonaro doesn’t believe in protecting indigenous lands. In September 2019, during his speech to the United Nations (UN), Bolsonaro claimed Non-government organizations (NGOs) were treating their native populations as cavemen. He also claimed that indigenous tribes don’t want to live the way they do now and the best option to reduce the amount of indigenous lands is to convert them into developments for ranching or mining (Hope, 2019). Currently, the indigenous people of Brazil live on reservations that make up 13 percent of the territory in Brazil (Benassatto and Boadle, 2019).
In March during a conference in Toronto, Bento Albuquerque, Minister of Mines and Energy claimed that mining companies would be allowed to move into open lands and Indigenous communities will not have an opportunity to veto this decision (Fox, 2019). Indigenous communities live in well-preserved lands because they don’t want to be part of the outside world. Indigenous people want to live in coherence with the environment (Diele-Viegas., Duarte Roeha, 2019). If Indigenous populations come into contact with the outside world, they can be exposed to changes that could alter their traditional lifestyles (Codato et al, 2019).
Its essential that Indigenous populations do not get their land rights taken from them. They depend on the resources the land gives them, but they play an important role regarding the biodiversity and the protection of the Amazon forest. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that claims indigenous communities help protect the world’s forests. Indigenous populations around the world, including Brazil, depend on natural resources as part of their culture and their livelihood. They understand nature as it is and maintain an ecological balance with the rainforest (Tauli-Corpuz et al, 2018).
The duty of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) in Brazil is to protect lands that indigenous tribes are living in as well as mapping them. This foundation is part of the Brazilian government body that supports polices concerning indigenous populations. They are also responsible in avoiding invasions from the outside world (Survival International). Bolsonaro has already dismantled FUNAI and wants to do the same with IBAMA. The duty of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) is to protect the country from deforestation (Branford, 2019). If both of these disappear, Indigenous populations will not have protection from any government resource.
Jair Bolsonaro is the wrong president for Brazil because he isn’t capable of holding the position he holds. He’s a military man that doesn’t have the skills in politics and business (Chagas-Bastos, 2019). During his campaign and even up to today, Bolsonaro has explicitly expressed his support for development in the Amazon. He doesn’t believe in protecting the rainforest and has started to diminish environmental laws. With environmental protection gone, the Amazon rainforest can continue to see an increase in mega-fires. Bolsonaro doesn’t believe land should be set aside for them. Bolsonaro believes their land should be used for development rather than protect them. During an interview, Bolsonaro said “There is not indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians (Survival International)”.
Image 1: August 26, 2019. Image taken near Relaidad, Brazil. Shows the smoke rising due to the destroyed trees (Sandy, 2019)
Image 2: Red: mining companies seeking appeals from Yellow: boundaries within indigenous lands and Green:areas with protected lands. Map created by Maurico Torres, Mongabay.
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