The Amazon is burning. What does that mean?

The largest rain forest in the world has been burning for the last month, and to some it may not seem like it, but it affects more than just the people in the Amazon.

Burning of the Amazon rainforest near the Xingu river. The forest has a role in preventing global warming by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. “[Because of the burning of the forest] there is going to be more carbon that is not absorbed in the atmosphere, which is not a good thing. Even if you don't believe in global warming, it is not a good thing [for our environment],” Smalley said. Photo credit by: NASA Earth Observatory.

The dry season of July and August creates favorable conditions for fires in the Amazon rain forest. It allows the fire to spread. It’s what makes it easier for farmers who want to burn down areas to use as cropland. However, because the fires are easy to spread, they are also hard to put out, which is one reason why the forest has been burning for the last month. 

Senior Beatriz Castro Borges is from Brazil, and for the last month has been trying to understand what is happening in her home country. According to Castro, even though the fires might start naturally, humans can also take the blame for it. 

“Some part of the fires is natural, of course, but humans take advantage of the situation for their own good for things like farming. The Amazon is humid, so it shouldn’t be burning the way it is, and the deforested areas make it almost impossible to put out the fires,” Borges said. [Quote translated from Portuguese]

Most parts of deforested areas in the Amazon are used for planting soybeans, and the main soybean buyers from Brazil are the Chinese and European, according to WWF Brazil. According to Borges, the fires are not just Brazil’s responsibility. 

“Brazil is mainly guilty for the fires, but it’s not just Brazil. The fires happen mostly because of deforestation, and other countries benefit from deforestation, It’s everyone’s fault. It’s useless to blame only Brazil for destroying the forest, when it’s being destroyed so other countries can buy cheap products, like soy and wood, from Brazil,” Borges said. [Quote translated from Portuguese]

If areas that humans don’t have access to were burning, it would be possible to conclude that the fires were natural, but areas near cropland are burning, which may hint to evidence that farmers are initiating the fires to make their farms bigger, according to BVN Biology teacher Daniel Smalley. 

“What’s interesting about the fires this year is actually not the quantity of fires, although it is significantly higher, but the types of fires that are being initiated. People will burn fields to keep the plants from growing so they can have cattle, and that’s normal. Some fires will extend on the perimeter of the forest, and that’s normal. But we are seeing satellites picking up spots in the rain forest that are in the deep interior, where it seems very likely that people are lighting them on fire. This deliberate setting of fire is unusual for the Amazon,” said Smalley. 

If the Amazon keeps being destroyed, it could be a possibility that what has happened in Kansas might happen there. The prairie that once covered the state has been reduced to only 1% of its original area. 

“In Kansas we lost 99% of all of the native prairie that used to live here. I think you can make an aesthetic argument that sort of the magic and beauty of the world is gone,” said Smalley.  

Freshman Luiz Lopes is also from Brazil, and according to him, the fires affect not only Brazil, but the entire world. 

“The Amazon is responsible for avoiding climate change, so if we destroy the forest, temperatures will be higher all over the world, and then it will be everyone’s problem. If we don’t start caring just because it is physically not affecting us, we’ll suffer the consequences. That’s why it’s important to do something now before the entire world is affected and we are burned by the high temperatures,” Lopes said. [Quote translated from Portuguese]

To help save the forest, and eventually avoid worse disasters that may happen in the future, BVN students can take action using crucial weapons such as social media, according to Lopes.

“We have the power in our hands. With just one click we can donate or make other people aware of what’s happening so they can do something. It is important to open our eyes so we can prevent worse things from happening,” Lopes said. [Quote translated from Portuguese]