The Amazon 2019 fires: What are the environmental consequences and what can we do to prevent it from happening again?

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Shades of red and orange dancing over a burnt landscape, flames licking and scorching what were once green horizons. The footage of flaming trees and grey smoky skies that overflowed our social media feeds in August 2019 made one thing bluntly clear: The Amazon is dying, and we need to take action now. For weeks, the Amazon was turned into an angry, blazing maelstrom of fire and smoke in what social media hastily dubbed: “the worst forest fire of the last decades”.

The prevailing narrative deriving from the social media uproar was that the Amazon had never burned like that before, a statement that is not entirely true.

The 2019 fire was just the tip of the iceberg. For years now, the world’s largest rainforest has been the victim of numerous devastating fires which unfortunately, are almost always the result of human activity. Uncontrolled and unregulated deforestation due to land clearing, slash-and-burn agricultural practices, and mindless cattle farming, preceded these fires and acted as kindling for their subsequent escalation.

Though this has been a recurrent problem, there was a decade long reprieve starting in 2005, in which the Brazilian government created laws that monitored and regulated deforestation practices linked to farming and agriculture. But sadly since 2014, deforestation rates have slowly crept up until skyrocketing again in 2019, when president Jair Bolsonaro took office and pledged to increase all agricultural activity in the region. According to BBC, more than 87,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year 2019, the highest number since 2010, which compares to 49,000 in the same period in 2018.

The Aftermath

The Amazon is the only rainforest we have left in terms of size and diversity. The massive green velvet blanket is home to approximately 10 percent of all the world’s species and due to its size and the fact that it produces its own rainfall, the Amazon rainforest plays a paramount role in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles; the devastating long-term impact of these fires is unfathomable.

Unlike other ecosystems in the world, the Amazon isn’t adapted to constant fires, which is one of the main reasons it is so rich and diverse. So, with fires not being common in the region, the impact on the different ecosystems is catastrophic. Many indigenous species, specially smaller ones, are unlikely to escape the flames, and the areas of vegetation lucky enough to survive, can take up to two decades to successfully recover.

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As if the environmental consequences weren’t enough, the problem is chronic; it has been going on for years, ever since the land proved to be immensely lucrative and rich, which means a long-term solution is far from becoming an immediate reality. Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher at the University of Sao Paulo explains the devastating consequences if immediate action is not taken: “If deforestation
continues, the rainforest could collapse. Many livelihoods will be impossible to maintain. Less rain will fall, temperatures will rise and tens of thousands of species will be lost along with the forest’s power to absorb as much as 5% of the world’s carbon emissions.”

Furthermore, the change in vegetation, humidity, light intensity that filters thought the canopy, weather, visibility, and air quality will inevitably alter the whole flow of energy in the ecosystem and modify the entire food chain. Without the upkeep of policies upholding the regulation of agricultural practices that lead to deforestation, the density of trees and vegetation will continue to decline, the amount of carbon emissions the ecosystem can absorb will lessen, and the global consequences will lead to a faster deterioration of our ozone layer.

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What can we do to help?

After the social media uproar of the 2019 fires, the sea of hashtags, re-posts, re-tweets, and “thoughts and prayers” have certainly fired-up some sort of collective social awareness. But it’s not enough. Whether large scale or small, people need to start making changes and become actively involved in putting pressure on the government and on large corporations to save the Amazon and all the other ecosystems that are in danger.

As a starting point, we as individuals need to get educated on sustainable practices and apply them to our everyday living. We need to understand and share our knowledge of why it’s important to preserve and care for rainforests, visit them on our travels, photograph them, touch them, breath them in, and become advocates for them. We should watch where our produce is coming from, what day-to-day consumer products and commodities are not rainforest-friendly and avoid them, reduce or completely cut out beef intake and paper and wood usage, and stop buying from companies who are widely known for being top pollutants.

Every small thing counts, but due to the severity of the problem, a more hands-on approach demands to be taken. You can star by making donations to organizations like The
Amazon Conservation Team
, which provide support and protects indigenous communities who live in stretches of land in the Amazon. These communities help take care of and rehabilitate the areas they live in. The Amazon Conservation Team also purchases degraded pieces of land in endangered parts of the rainforest and to date, have restored and protected almost 2 million acres of land and stablished 13 indigenous groups in their own stretches of land all thought the rainforest.

Other organizations with similar programs you can donate to are: Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, and Rainforest Trust.

In a more collective, large scale and global approach, governments and large companies ultimately have the power to make the greater change. We can support organizations like the Rainforest Alliance which works towards certifying corporations in sustainable practices and eco-friendly ways of using land, farming, fair employment, and overall good business practices. Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance says: “We must change the way in which agriculture works. And while that certainly means changing farming practices to be more environmentally sustainable, it also must entail a change in how farmers are remunerated for their hard work, the way companies source their ingredients, and what we consume.” A business that is Rainforest Alliance certified is proven to have better market participation, better reputation, reduced productions costs and higher profitability.

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Political and social workforces that come together to fight climate change also need to be created for an even more hands-on approach.

The Climate Group is an organization that ensures that governments and corporations work towards creating efficient and observable climate action policies. They ensure that the leaders from around the world shift global markets, laws and policies in search of finding new and real solutions to climate deterioration. More importantly, once the solutions have been created, they make sure that the local governments, specially the smallest and more challenged ones, enforce and take action against deforestation, damaging agricultural practices, unlawful farming and overall environmental destruction.

The devastating consequences of the Amazon fires are staggering, but the light at the end tunnel is the fact that there seems to be an ever-growing movement of concerned world citizens who seek real, palpable, and feasible solutions to prevent all these ecological disasters. As long as there’s people in every corner of the world who keep doing research, learning, traveling, documenting, and participating, there is hope to one day stop and reverse climate change.

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