At 3PM local time on Monday, Brazil’s largest city, São Paolo, plunged into darkness as a result of smoke from ongoing fires destroying the Amazon rainforest — thousands of kilometres away.
This year, Brazil is witnessing a record number of bushfires. And the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has said the country’s government lacks the resources to put these fires out, creating more concern surrounding rainforest damage and devastation to lands belonging to Indigenous people.
But what exactly caused these fires to begin with? It’s fairly simple, and predictably, a source of debate between environmentalists and one politician.
What’s causing these fires?
Man-made deforestation. As CNN reports, both environmentalist groups and researchers agree that local cattle ranchers, farmers and loggers have intentionally lit fires to clear the land for cattle (and have been incentivised to do so by Brazil’s pro-business/climate-sceptic president).
In a statement to The New York Times, a government agency stated that more than 3445 square km of forest cover have been cleared since the start of 2019 (a 39 per cent increase as compared to this time last year). Generally, these fires are linked to Brazil’s reliance on beef production; the country provides nearly 20 per cent of the world’s beef exports.
Meanwhile, Bolsanaro has blamed non-profit groups, arguing that they’ve lit fires to “embarrass” the government after he cut their funding earlier this year (he has yet to offer evidence to back up these claims).
As for arguments of climate change’s role in the fires, it certainly isn’t helping, but it’s very unlikely there’s any connection (though it could make fires worse and create hotter and drier conditions overall).
How many fires are there right now?
As of last week, there were an estimated 9000 bushfires.
As BBC reports, Brazil has seen a record number of forest fires already in 2019 — more than 75,000 have been recorded so far (as compared to 40,000 during the same period last year, which is still a lot). July and August also mark the beginning of a drier season in the Amazon, leaving it more vulnerable to fires than during wetter months.
Why should I care?
The Amazon rainforest is considered our planet’s “lungs”. It absorbs millions of tonnes of carbon emissions and produces an estimated 20 per cent of oxygen in our atmosphere. Worse, it’s emitting smoke and carbon to surrounding areas and endangering plants, animals and Indigenous people that live in its basin.
How can I help?
While you can’t really do anything to stop the current fires, you can do a couple of things to help prevent fires and preserve the rainforest going forward:
- First, you can donate to the Rainforest Action Network’s Protect-an-Acre program. The funds will go toward organisations that work to defend rainforest territories and Indigenous people.
- You can also donate to Amazon Watch, a non-profit that also preserves rainforests and Indigenous people.
- Alternatively, fund a project by the Rainforest Trust, which includes saving Indigenous lands in the Amazon.
And of course, collectively eating less beef won’t hurt, either, since demand for beef is what created this situation to begin with. Substitute a beef burger for an impossible burger, if you’re willing, and consider making shifts towards more plant-based meals in your diet.