Home Emergency Management News Amazon Rainforest Fires Spike Carbon Monoxide Emissions
Amazon Rainforest Fires Spike Carbon Monoxide Emissions

Amazon Rainforest Fires Spike Carbon Monoxide Emissions

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

There have been almost 73,000 fires in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil this year, an 84 percent increase over the same time period last year, the Guardian reports.

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The problem has become so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron has called the record-breaking number of blazes “an international crisis” that should be on the agenda of this weekend’s G-7 summit in Biarritz, France.

Who’s to Blame for the Rainforest Fires?

Some reports say farmers “feeling emboldened” are clearing the land for crops and cattle because the new Brazilian government is “keen to open the region to economic activity.” But President Jair Bolsonaro accuses environmental groups of starting the fires but without providing any evidence, the Guardian noted.

“Scientists and environmentalists were alarmed but not surprised -- many had predicted deforestation would increase because of Bolsonaro’s aggressive pro-development, anti-conservation political agenda,” Science magazine said.

Sharp Spike in Deforestation Incidents and Burning This Summer

There was an especially sharp spike in deforestation incidents in July, which has been followed by extensive burning in August. Farmers in some regions are organizing “fire days” to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the authorities.

For example, The Washington Post reported that a “day of fire” in the state of Para on August 10, monitored by the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (also known as INPE or the National Institute for Space Research), “recorded hundreds of fires in the state as farmers cleared land for agriculture and also burned intact areas of rainforest for further development.”

INPE said the large number of wildfires cannot be attributed to the dry season or natural phenomena alone. "There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average," INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters.

"The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident," Setzer added.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that the fires “have led to a clear spike in carbon monoxide emissions as well as planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.” That spike poses “a threat to human health and [is] aggravating global warming,” according to the Post.

Amazon Rainforest Fires Destroying an Important Oxygen Source

Wildfires release vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air and temporarily prevent carbon from accumulating in the trees and soil, scientists explain. “As part of the natural carbon cycle, the lost carbon is stored again by new trees, which use CO2 from the air to grow, as well as by the dead plants, leaves and branches that accumulate in the soil.”

These destructive fires would evoke mild interest and perhaps some sympathy in other parts of the world. However, the Amazon rainforest is called “the lungs of the planet” because it plays such a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing more than 20% of the world's oxygen.

But the Amazonian rainforest “is not adapted to fire and does not recover well after fire,” Stefan Doerr, Professor of Geography and Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Wildland Fire at Swansea University in Wales, told the Mirror Online.

“It can take many decades until all the carbon that was emitted during a fire is recaptured by the ecosystem,” Doerr said.

“Scientists warn that climate change is shortening the interval between fires, leaving less time for forests to regrow,” he explained. In addition, climate change is also increasing the intensity of individual fires, allowing them to burn deeper into the soil.

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Brazilian Government Favors Loggers over Indigenous Residents

Since Bolsonaro took power on January 1, Brazil’s environment agency has issued fewer penalties. Government ministers have also made it clear that their sympathies are with loggers rather than with the indigenous groups who live in the forest, the Guardian noted.

In the midst of the blame-game controversy, INPE Director Ricardo Galao was fired last month when INPE satellite data showed the alarming rise in deforestation in recent months. Deforestation soared 88% in June compared with a year earlier. In the first half of July deforestation was up 68% on the whole of July 2018.

Bolsonaro called the data “lies” and fired Galao.

“Sacking the director of INPE is just an act of vengeance against someone who showed the truth,” Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator, Márcio Astrini, said in a statement to the Guardian.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."