Sighing Over the Lungs of the Planet

Brazil's President has taken a mainly defensive stance as celebrities and influential figures from around the globe have attacked his government's inaction in response to the fires.

Brazil's President has taken a mainly defensive stance as celebrities and influential figures from around the globe have attacked his government's inaction in response to the fires. "Jair_bolsonaro_debate" by FotosBolsonaro is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

What began as a trifling concern on Twitter has gradually developed into an international panic as news of the burning of the Amazon rainforest flooded all social media platforms and news outlets. More than twenty-six thousand individual fires were reported in the month of August alone. The fires, originally believed to have been the result of natural causes, are actually intentional. World leaders, celebrities, conservationists, scientists, and even the United Nations have expressed their own solutions to the Brazilian government, only to receive a response that vaguely dismisses the matter in a way that is often perceived by the rest of the world as the cold feeling of ignorance. 

However, despite the picture that the Internet has been painting of this quite literal smoke and mirrors debacle, the tension between Brazil’s relationship with its rainforest and whether or not the rest of the world deserves to have a say in the matter dates back decades. Resources from the rainforest, such as lumber and cocoa beans, are commonly sold and exported, but for the last several years, many Brazilians have discovered that farming proves to be more profitable than just harvesting beans or fruit. The practice of clearing forest for farmland has been debated commonly in Brazil for years, the only difference being that now photos of the act have been plastered all over the Internet for the world to see. Brazil isn’t the only country chopping down its forests at a faster rate‒Peru has destroyed approximately one hundred and seventy thousand acres in the last five years. In addition to the convenience of the already fertile land nourished by the rainforest itself, the people of many Latin American countries are further motivated to land grab for the purposes of growing and selling crops used to make illegal drugs. 

It’s not just for crops, either. The Bolivian government‒specifically President Evo Morales‒has recently been granting land to farmers in an attempt to stimulate the economy by increasing the beef trade with China. This brings up a justifiable argument‒that the rainforest belongs to the citizens of the eight nations of which it spans, and shouldn’t they be allowed to utilize it as they see fit? After all, the rest of the world doesn’t protest when the people of the United States decide to build subdivisions or clear out more farmland in hopes of larger crops. Regardless of the debate over the rights to the world’s largest rainforest, researchers have determined that the increased deforestation and fires have produced enough carbon dioxide emissions to equal the total annual emissions of the entire state of North Carolina. The forest is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”- it produces a fifth of the world’s oxygen and is also responsible for generating at least half of its rainfall. Less forest leads to less rain, which results in drier plants that are more likely to catch on fire. Smoke from fires only releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that will further stimulate the effects of climate change. 

Politically, the concern centers around the overall well-being of the planet as well as supply and demand. About a quarter of the pharmaceutical drugs sold in the United States alone are derived from vegetation grown and found in the Amazon. Deforestation has increased by nearly eighty-five percent between January and August simply because the Brazilian government, amongst many others, has made it easier to clear land by cutting environmental funding and failing to provide proper support for the indigenous tribes who still call the Amazon home. Brazil has shifted its focus onto replacing the U.S. when it comes to trading with China for soybeans and beef. The political stability of Brazil has been up in the air for the last several years. President Jair Bolsonaro has chosen to respond to the protests of many organizations and the generous donations of stars such as Leonardo di Caprio with the statement: “No country in the world has the right to talk about the Amazon. You have destroyed your own ecosystems.” As of August 29th, the Brazilian government has agreed to issue a ban on burning forest land for sixty days, but it is unclear how strongly enforced this law will be due to the instability of the military.