Amazon Rainforest Fires

Amazon Rainforest Fires


Geoff Diver

Several fires have erupted across the Amazon rainforest in early August. However, news outlets only recently started covering the story after gaining attention from social media. The fires have many environmentalists worried about the effects on climate change and whether life will be sustainable without the rainforest.

Contrary to popular belief, fires occur often in the Amazon. Currently, the problem is that we are seeing an 80% increase in the number of fires this year. We have seen such a large increase because of climate change and Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, and his loosened environmental restrictions.

Nobody is certain how these fires started, but it could be related to a common method of agriculture called slash-and-burn. Slash-and-burn is when humans cut or burn forestation with the purpose of clearing land for crops or cattle. Both slashing and burning are employed frequently around the world, even in the US.

Roslyn O’Conner, a biology professor at Millikin, claimed that it isn’t uncommon for fires to erupt during the Amazon rainforest’s dry season. This year’s dry season has lasted longer than usual due to climate change. The warmer climate has caused several droughts throughout the rainforest, allowing for the fires to spread at an alarming rate.

Lucas Russo, an environmental studies major, made the point that climate change has allowed for these “perfect storms” to start multiple fires in the rainforest that evolve into one big fire.

O’Conner went on to explain the effects these fires will have on humans. The Amazon is known as “the lungs of the planet,” so the loss of those trees will have grave effects on the amount of oxygen available to us. The Amazon is also responsible for housing CO2 or “greenhouse gases” that stay in our atmosphere and warm the planet.

If serious actions are not taken soon to put out the fires, we will be caught in a constant loop. The burning of the trees will make droughts more frequent, causing an increase in the amount of forest fires we have, which will result in less trees and more CO2 gases in our air that will cause even more droughts.

When discussing the Amazon, people are quick to talk about the oxygen it produces but disregard the effects it has on our water. Russo stated that “down the line, the ashes could affect the water levels” and contribute to water pollution, water quality and erosion. Everything in nature is connected even if it doesn’t appear to be.  By disturbing one thing in nature, you can disrupt an entire ecosystem.

O’Connor stated that if the rainforest is wiped out, “the planet will survive; it will be a different world.  What will the effect have on humans? I don’t know.”

When talking about climate change, many individuals talk of the end of the world. That is a misconception. The world will continue to evolve and adapt. But humans may not have the ability to keep up, even with our technology. It is very possible that we will get left behind and become extinct.

Since the fires made global headlines, several countries have banded together to donate $20 million to the rainforest. But the Brazilian president Bolsonaro has declined the offer after claiming to be offended by the French president, Macron, who admitted a portion of his interest in preserving the rainforest is due to France having territory there. Bolsonaro expects an apology from Macron before he agrees to accept the $20 million in aid. The two have been feuding back and forth since, and it appears that neither party will cower down for the greater good.

The fires have left many people feeling hopeless about our survival as a species. Not everyone can fly to Brazil and put out the fires directly, but we can help from home. Recycling is an excellent place to start, and limiting the amount of beef you ingest is also helpful.

“Even your McDonald’s burger has an effect on the rainforest,” O’Conner said.

The most important thing you can do is elect officials who are committed to getting rid of fossil fuels completely. Fossil fuels contribute greatly to climate change and are a danger to our survival. Our species will not survive if we continue to use fossil fuels, and we are better off adapting to other alternatives.