Graphic by ALLISON WOODLAND
The Amazon rainforest has undergone record-breaking fires this year, and the usual drought of Amazonia’s dry season is not the only cause. In addition to drought, illegal logging and deforestation further feed the flames.
“The rainforest has had intensive fires these past few months, naturally occurring as well as man-made,” said Holly Barnum (‘20). “The Brazil President Jaor Bolsonaro has rolled back protections of the rainforests and introduced far-right policies that pretty much lets miners, farmers, and loggers set fire to the forest to clear more land to use.”
Recent changes to environmental policies which previously protected the Amazon rainforest now leave Amazonia vulnerable to various destructive forces. These changes were economically-driven, but their harmful effects will long outlast their benefits.
“The recent president of Brazil has been very anti-environmental,” said Dr. Rowe, professor of biology. “It’s for short-term economic gain. But, of course, we all know these forests are worth much more than the availability for the oil and gas industry, because oil dries up.”
Many feel that the short-term economic gains of deforestation pale in comparison to the long-term benefits of leaving the rainforest intact.
“The Amazon rainforest helps to revert climate change because of its ability to process CO₂,” said Rowe. “The Amazon is also a hot-bed for natural products. There’s a lot of natural products and chemicals in plants and other things that are used for medicinal purposes.”
The Amazon rainforest serves home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which could be at risk amidst the destruction of the rainforest.
“Of all the plant species, around 70-75% of the plant species are endemic to the Amazon,” said Rowe. They’re found nowhere else. It’s also got the greatest concentration of freshwater fish in the world.”
In addition to the rich biodiversity of plants and animals residing in the rainforest, Amazonia serves home to many indigenous people. The fire threatens the land occupied by their ancestors for centuries, as well as their way of life.
“There are numerous indigenous tribes that have lived in the rainforest for generations, with extensive experience and knowledge of the species-rich environment.” said Barum.
Various factors have destroyed large portions of the Amazon rainforest already, and the future foretells even greater loss.
“They’ve lost a considerable amount of their forest,” said Rowe. “About twenty percent or so of the Amazonian rainforest is just gone. It’s been converted to other sorts of things. By 2030, I think we’re looking at somewhere closer to twenty-five percent loss.”
In spite of the damage Amazonia has undergone already, people from all over the world possess the potential to make contributions towards saving the rainforest.
“Donations to organizations such as the and Amazon Watch, Rainforest Trust, World Wildlife Fund, and the Rainforest Action Network’s “Protect an Acre” grants are a few options for people to get involved.” said Barnum.
In addition to financial contributions, small changes of habit here at Alma College can make big contributions towards rainforest conservation.
“Using less wood and paper as well as consuming less beef, cheese, and pork can help reduce commercial pressures in the Amazon,” said Barnum. “Buying from ethical sources is also a beneficial method, such as buying items certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or by the Rainforest Alliance (RA).”