Monday, August 26, 2019

The Earth's Lungs are Burning and Bolsanaro is to Blame

Wildfires have raged all around the world in 2019 but nowhere is the situation more serious than in the record breaking Amazon fires. There have been almost 80,000 fires in the Amazon this year, more than 30,000 in recent weeks and almost 10,000 since the middle of August. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, or INPET reports that there have been 74,155 fires in the Amazon in 2019. The massive plumes of smoke from these fires stretch for 1.2 million square miles, cutting across the entire continent of South America and extending out into the South Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon is composed of 2.12 square miles of rainforest that spans Columbia and Peru as well as other countries. However, the majority of the Amazon is located in Brazil.

Bolsanaro is responsible

The far right Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro is proving to be the leading cause of Amazonian rainforest destruction. In the eight months since Bolsanaro has been in power more than 1,330 square miles of forest have been lost. July saw the single biggest increase in deforestation ever in the Amazon.

"This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth," Christian Poirier, the program director of Amazon Watch, an environmental non-profit organization, said in a statement. "Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a licence to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest."

Bosanaro's environmental ministry announced that foreign aid earmarked to fight deforestation would be funneled to cattle and soybean farmers. Like Trump Bolsanaro also makes profoundly ignorant statements like "poop every other day" to address deforestation.

Like Trump Bolsanaro is also at war with those who espouse reason and facts. In his bid to curtail the public's access to information, Bolsanaro fired the head of the INPE, Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão.To add to the insanity that has earned Bolsanaro the nickname of Trump of the Tropics, the Brazilian president has made the absurd allegation that environmentalists set these fires. The truth is many of these fires are set by farmers who have been emboldened by Bolsanaro. Both Trump and the Brazilian president have earned reputations for their wanton environmental destruction.

Global catastrophe

Wildfires have raged on every continent on Earth in 2019 but there is something terrifyingly unique about the fires in the Amazon.  These fires are darkening the skies and choking Brazilian cities, but the impacts of these fires extend well beyond Brazil's borders. The fires in the Amazon are a threat to local communities, particularly the almost one million Indigenous people who inhabit the rainforests, but these fires are also a threat to life on Earth.

The Amazon is the planet's first line of defense against climate change and it is being razed to make room for carbon intensive farming. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world. Amazonian deforestation is responsible for 8 percent of net global emissions.

The Amazon rainforest is one of the Earth's biggest suppliers of oxygen deforestation would reduce the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere by 20 percent. The Amazon contains 25 percent of the carbon dioxide currently sequestered by the world's forests. It is also one of the richest areas of biodiversity on Earth.

For these reasons the Amazon fires have been referred to in ominous headlines. NBC news proclaimed, "Amazon wildfires could be 'game over' for climate change fight". The Economist called it a "forest apocalypse", Futurism referred to "Hell World" and Business Insider cited a "doomsday scenerio". The Washington Post reports the Amazonian rainforests are "under threat as never before".

Devastating feedback loops

There are a number of feedback loops that can trigger tipping points from which we may not be able to recover. One such feedback loop is the one between wildfires and climate change.  

In a climate change induced feedback loop record breaking heat record breaking wildfires go together. Fires are caused by warming temperatures which are caused by increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. These fires in turn emit C02 which further exacerbates climate change.

According to a study published in Nature, warming temperatures could prevent trees from emitting oxygen and they could start emitting carbon instead.

The already devastating effects could get far worse. Approximately 20 percent or 300,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest in Brazil has been cut down. If we lose another 20 percent this could trigger an unstoppable feedback loop called "dieback" which could decimate the rainforest and turn the entire area into a savanna. This would exacerbate climate change by releasing 140 billion tons of stored carbon into the atmosphere. It would also mean an end to the world's most important carbon sink.

As reported in The Intercept, "losing another fifth of Brazil’s rainforest will trigger the feedback loop known as dieback, in which the forest begins to dry out and burn in a cascading system collapse… This would release a doomsday bomb of stored carbon, disappear the cloud vapor that consumes the sun’s radiation before it can be absorbed as heat, and shrivel the rivers in the basin and in the sky."

In a post for The Conversation, researchers said this process could also increase the number of fires. "Losing 20% of Brazil's rainforest could result in such a feedback loop, which would dry trees, leaving them unable to absorb as much carbon and much more flammable and likely to spread fires."

Brazilian environmental scientist Carlos Nobre is quoted by the Washington Post as saying: "The more the forest becomes degraded, the more the forest will become vulnerable to forest fires."

Poirier, summarized the situation when he said:  "The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos."

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