Here's What the Amazon Fires Are Threatening

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©. Patch of forest being cleared with fire in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019 (Photo: LULA SAMPAIO/AFP/Getty Images)

'These fires are a situation that humanity cannot tolerate.' – Carlos Durigan, WCS Brazil

As the fires in the Amazon rage across the rainforest, the global frustration and lamentation have been spreading as well. The topic took a front seat at the recent G7 summit, with French President Emmanuel Macron announcing that the G7 countries would release $22 million dollars to help quell the fires.

It's a mess. The Amazon rainforest fires have largely been started by humans in an effort to clear the land for business, emboldened by the pro-business, climate-change-questioning Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. As the AP reports, "Critics say the large number of fires this year has been stoked by Bolsonaro’s encouragement of farmers, loggers and ranchers to speed efforts to strip away forest."

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro says that Macron's plan treats Brazil "as if we were a colony or no man's land."

Well here's the thing: There is a lot at stake here.

In a statement issued by WCS Brazil, WCS Brazil Country Director Carlos Durigan says, “The Amazon, a fortress for life on Earth, is burning nearly twice as fast as last year. All parties must come together to stop the setting of these devastating fires.”

Durigan provides some numbers to put things in perspective; it helps explain why this is a global problem. Here is who and what is being threatened by the flames:

  • 34 million people including 380 indigenous groups;
  • 30,000+ species of vascular plants;
  • 2.5 million species of insects;
  • 2,500 species of fish;
  • 1,500+ species of birds;
  • 550 species of reptiles;
  • 500 species mammals.

While iconic species call the Amazon river basin home – creatures like the jaguar, tapir, pink river dolphin and harpy eagle – the basin is also provides habitat for 10 to 12 percent of all the species on the planet and is the largest freshwater system in the world.

It is the largest intact forest on the planet. Intact forests are vital for life on earth. They absorb a quarter of total carbon emissions annually in an enormous natural sink. The Amazon contains up to 200 gigatons of carbon in living biomass and soils, or six times of annual global carbon emissions. When these forests are destroyed, this carbon is released, further fueling the global climate crisis.

“These fires are threatening the livelihoods of all Amazonian people – indigenous and non-indigenous, urban and rural; destroying the world’s greatest home for wild species of plants and animals; and reducing the forests which store and sequester carbon and help curtail our planet’s climate crisis," says Durigan. "The increase in fire frequency is extremely troubling. The Amazon is the largest intact tropical forest in the world. It produces about 20 percent of the planet's pure air and this increase in the rate of its loss has global impacts."

Which is to say, it's not about colonialism – it's about the millions of people and species being directly threatened; and about keeping the planet habitable for all of us. As Durigan says, "These fires are a situation that humanity cannot tolerate and we must rise to manifest our most effective solutions.”

For more, see the whole statement by WCS here.