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As our lungs collapse

  • Published at 10:56 pm August 23rd, 2019
Burned to the ground
Burned to the ground / REUTERS

The Amazon fire rages on with no end in sight

The world got to know about the horrific fire in Amazon after three weeks of burning, while it was made aware of the Notre Dame cathedral catastrophe within three minutes of its first flame. Amazon fires barely managed to get the attention of the media despite laying waste to an area roughly the size of a football pitch every single minute. 

It is an alarming fact that people care more about a single building with historical importance to a particular faith than they do about the “lungs of the world.”

Fires in Brazil came to the spotlight on the afternoon of August 19 when massive plumes of smoke blackened the skies of São Paulo, travelling thousands of miles. A map released by the European Union Earth Observation Program shows that the smoke covers nearly half the country and reaches the Atlantic coast. 

Multiple flames have erupted in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, hitting a record number this year with 72,843 fires detected so far, according to the country’s space agency INPE. Reuters reported that the rise marks an 83% increase over the same period in 2018, and is the highest since records started in 2013. 

Since Thursday, INPE said 9,507 new forest fires were spotted by satellite images in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin, which is shelter to 3 million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. The area that has been generating more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and 10% of the world’s known biodiversity is on the verge of destruction. 

According to Nasa Earth Observatory, fires are rare for most of the year in the Amazon region, because wet and humid weather prevents them from starting and spreading. The area’s dry season begins in July, which reaches its peak by early September and stopping by mid-November. 

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil, but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching. The flames of wildfires are being blamed on the right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has encouraged loggers to clear the land and recently fired the director of INPE after he had shown a growth in deforestation in Brazil.

Not only the Amazon rainforest, major wildfires are burning all over the world right now. Siberia has lost more than 21,000 square miles of forest this month. On Monday, more than 8,000 people were forced to flee from the Canary Islands. 

In Alaska, new fires have ignited, which extended the already unusual long fire season for the province. Last week, a batch of firefighters was dispatched by the Denmark government to combat a wildfire approaching populated areas in Greenland, which has already been affected by enormous ice melts and record levels of heat. 

Now the question is why no one is talking about this horrendous incident. 

Why have there been no front-page reports or photographs or hashtags as we saw with the Notre Dame burning, which dominated social media at the time? 

We watched the whole world feeling a piece of themselves burn with the burning of the cathedral, as billionaires emptied their pockets for a building that could be rebuilt with beams and wood, but they failed to apply the same focus on an incident of rainforest destruction that won’t be so easy to put back together. 

Although the Amazon fires currently burning away are thousands of miles away from Ecuador, many are smelling a conspiracy linking the win of a lawsuit by the Waorani people of Pastaza, an indigenous tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon, against the big oil companies, saving half-a-million acres of forest from oil drilling in July.

Fires continue to burn in the Amazon forest. If a proper and integrated approach with greater emphasis on sustainable solutions is not taken to conserve the fire-sensitive forestry, the next generation is not far away from only associating Amazon with an online shopping platform, instead of the world’s largest tropical forest. 

ShoohaTabil is a climate researcher.