The planet’s lungs are choking. The Amazon rainforest, the world’s most precious biodiversity hotspot that produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen, has been burning for the last three weeks. It is a crisis that should concern the entire world, not just Brazil or the South American region. As satellite data shows 83% increase in the extent of fires compared with last year, it is nothing short of a climate emergency that warrants urgent global action, not empty words of sympathy. By initially blaming the NGOs for starting the fires, the Brazilian government has shown stunning insensitivity to a man-made disaster. The South American nation has a responsibility to the world to protect the world’s largest rainforest, often called ‘lungs of the Earth’, which is vital in the fight against global warming. So far this year, over 78,000 fires have been detected in the region by Brazil’s space research centre. Clearly, unbridled deforestation is leading to a major imbalance. Fire is often used to clear out the land for farming or ranching. Forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious circle. As the number of fires increases, greenhouse gas emissions also go up, leading to a rise in the planet’s overall temperature. As the temperature increases, extreme weather events like major droughts happen more often. In addition to increasing emissions, deforestation also contributes directly to a change in rainfall patterns in the affected region, extending the length of the dry season, further affecting forests, biodiversity, agriculture and human health.
The Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of the world’s known biodiversity and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, with impacts on everything from food production to drinking water. The dense jungle absorbs a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas believed to be the biggest factor in climate change. Scientists say that preserving the Amazon is vital to fighting global warming. The World Meteorological Organization, the United Nation’s weather arm, has warned that the fires release pollutants, including particulate matter and toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere. It is widely feared that continued destruction of the Amazon could push it toward a tipping point as 15-17% of the entire rainforest region has already been destroyed. Researchers had earlier thought that the tipping point would be 40% destruction. Now, the tipping point is more likely to happen between 20% and 25% because of global warming and widespread fires. The result would be catastrophic. It would be far difficult to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius — the goal to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.