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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

politics of fire in Amazon forests


In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of warrior women related to the Scythians and Sarmatians.  Over the past week, as fires have sent up enough smoke to darken the skies of São Paulo, the world has rallied concern for the fate of the Amazon. At the G7 summit, leaders pledged support and $20 million to help fight the fires, only to have that amount rejected by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims that the Amazon belongs to Brazil and that the country’s “sovereignty” is under threat.

The Amazon rainforest, also known as Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America.  This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.  The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for the past month, with Brazil declaring a state of emergency in the region.  The number of fires in Brazil this year is the highest on record since 2013 and is up by 85% from last year alone, CNN reported. So far this year, more than 80,000 fires in the country have been detected by Brazil's space research center, INPE.

There are so many fires burning right now, that smoke is visible from space. European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano captured images of smoke from the International Space Station on Monday. Parmitano said the haze is so widespread, it resembles clouds in some of the photos.  The thousands of fires that  are burning in Brazil, are sending clouds of smoke across the region and pumping alarming quantities of carbon into the world’s atmosphere.   As tongues of flame lapped the planet’s largest tract of rain forest over the past few weeks, it has rightfully inspired the world’s horror. The entire Amazon could be nearing the edge of a desiccating feedback loop, one that could end in catastrophic collapse. This collapse would threaten millions of species, from every branch of the tree of life, each of them—its idiosyncratic splendor, its subjective animal perception of the world—irretrievable once it’s gone. Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible.

In the worst-affected Brazilian state of Amazonas, the peak day this month was 700% higher than the average for the same date over the past 15 years. In other states, the amount of ash and other particulates in August has hit the highest level since 2010.  Most of the fires are agricultural, either smallholders burning stubble after harvest, or farmers clearing forest for cropland. Illegal land-grabbers also destroy trees so they can raise the value of the property they seize. But they are manmade and mostly deliberate. Unlike the huge recent blazes in Siberia and Alaska, the Amazon fires are very unlikely to have been caused by lightning.

It is not as if entire forest is on fire !  Satellite monitoring experts say the images of an entire forest ablaze are exaggerated. A great deal of misinformation has been spread by social media, including the use of striking images from previous years’ burning seasons.  Although some reports have claimed the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, it is not clear where this figure originated. The true figure is likely to be no more than 6%, according to climate scientists.  There is still of extreme concern.  The fires are mostly illegal and they are degrading the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink and most important home for biodiversity. They also contribute to a more important trend, which is an alarming rise in deforestation.

Worser still, the fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon are likely to intensify over the coming weeks, a leading environmental expert has warned, despite government claims the situation had been controlled. On Monday Brazil’s defense minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, told reporters: “The situation is not straightforward but it’s under control and already cooling down nicely.” But in an article for Brazil’s O Globo newspaper on Wednesday, one prominent forestry expert warned that the country’s annual burning season had yet to fully play out and called for urgent steps to reduce the potential damage.  So, the apprehension is “the worst of the fire is still to come !” That warning came after more than 400 members of Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, published a damning open letter about the state of environmental protection under Bolsonaro, a right-wing nationalist who took power in January vowing to open up the Amazon to development.

Campaigners accuse Bolsonaro’s administration of hamstringing the very agency that should be fighting illegal deforestation and giving the green-light to environmental criminals with his pro-development rhetoric. On Wednesday Reuters reported that, despite the spike in deforestation, an elite squad of Ibama operatives – called the Grupo Especializado de Fiscalização or Specialized Inspection Group – had not been deployed to the Amazon once in 2019. At a summit of Amazon governors on Tuesday – supposedly convened to discuss responses to the fires – Bolsonaro repeatedly attacked environmentalists and indigenous activists who he claimed were holding back Brazil’s economy.

Before concluding, the  Brazilian government walked back its rejection of $20 million in foreign aid to help fight fires blazing in the Amazon rainforest on Tuesday, saying it would take international aid after all. Acceptance of the funds, however, would hinge on the Brazilian government being able to administrate the aid, clarified presidential spokesperson Otavio Rego Barros. Earlier this week, Brazil escalated its war of words with global powers over the Amazon fires.   Jair Bolsonaro  added that he would only respond to the offer once French President Emmanuel Macron withdrew his insults against him. Macron had accused Bolsonaro of "lying" to him about climate commitments during trade negotiations. The Amazon blazes have caused a public spat between Bolsonaro and Macron, who has been vocal about the need for an international response to the fires.

There is fire and politics too in Amazon – devastating !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
28th Aug 2019.

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