Fired Up About the Amazon

By: Katie Hagevik & Toby Groutas

The Amazon rainforest is home to around 40,000 different plant species, 1,300 birds, 3,000 different kinds of fish, 430 mammals and around 2.5 million insects. That’s more than any other ecosystem has in the entire world, along with the highest level of biodiversity in the world. Due to all the trees in the Amazon, the region produces about 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is crucial for our survival. So what happens when all that is gone? As many know, trees store carbon, so, if all these trees are destroyed, then 140 billion tons of carbon would be released back into our atmosphere, causing a huge increase in global temperatures. Brazil’s government isn’t allowing any countries or activists to intervene, so there is very little that can be done to protect this beautiful ecosystem.

In Brazil, they have a season called queimada, translating to “burning,” where they wait till the dry season and burn specific parts of their land so that cattle can graze. Consequently, this is most likely the cause of the fires. When asked, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, expressed, “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame, but it is the season of the queimada.” Meanwhile, Tatiana Farah, reporter for Buzzfeed News says, “He has paved the way for the illegal clearing of forests in favor of cattle farming and agriculture.”  I would hope that this source is wrong, but there’s no denying economic benefits that this slash-and-burn tactic brings in. Bolsonaro’s motivations include more land for agricultural uses and mining. Cattle ranching, his main motivation, is the biggest economic driver of deforestation, so it’s no surprise he’s turning away aid. Having the leader of your country purposefully burning down trees, actively creating global warming and diminishing Earth’s oxygen would be an insult to the country.

The main cause of fires in the Amazon are the queimadas, also known as slash-and-burn agricultural technique. It’s used to dry out the land, make room for other development and replenish the soil for the next growing period. The consequences of this fire are huge and possibly irreversible. The smoke releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while taking down the trees that collect this same carbon dioxide. 

So I ask you this, is burning the only way to replenish soil? Alternatives to the slash-and-burn technique might include organic composting, which is a good approach to replenishing new soil but might be hard to cover so much of the forest with it. Something like manure would work wonders on our environment, especially with all the cattle they use on their farms. Implementing manure or simply just educating people on how it works would be a huge change and benefit for many reasons. Manure can decrease or stop active burning, create a multipurpose use for cattle, reduce smoke in the air and in people’s lungs, and can also reduce runoff and leeching of nitrate in the soil. That being said, we all know the one con of manure… methane.

I asked several East High School students about the fires, to find out what they had heard and where they stand on the issue. First, I interviewed a group of sophomores. All of them were devastated about the fires but confused about ways they could possibly help. Annalee Christopher says “People need to do more than posting it on your Insta [Instagram] story. The only thing that does is let people know it’s happening.” Junior Leslie Salgado notes that the fires in Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are occurring more frequently, but aren’t being broadcasted or even acknowledged. What do we do about that? 

Senior Hayden Christopher thinks the United Nations should always step in and help any country or place that has a danger of affecting the environment or human health. If the United Nations does decide to step in, how would that be interpreted? Technically, if another country crosses Brazil’s borders, without permission, it is declaring war. So is crossing Brazil’s borders with a multinational firefighting force a practical idea? 

Junior Sheridan Hood expresses concern that not many people admit their confusion and lack of information. Hood notes that climate change is real and scary, “Climate change is coming for us.”