Worldwide wednesday| 2019-09-11 Szumutku Fanni

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire.”

If you read your Facebook news really carefully, then you must have bumped into a headline about the Amazon rainforest fire. In August, frightening news appeared and spread like fire: „we can’t even see the sun from the smoke”, „the lungs of the world are on fire” and what’s more: “the fire can be seen from space”. Social media websites were flooded with ambiguous information, frightening scandals, and #PrayforAmazonas headlines. Some celebrities, like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Emmanuel Macron, president of France, gave voice to this matter. Even a website was established, named Global Forest Watch, where you could follow the route of the fire thanks to data by NASA. If this wasn’t enough, on Facebook you could donate to newly established foundations in order to stop Amazon fires. Can we believe these news? Should we be afraid of the consequences?

The Amazon rainforest

There’s no doubt, this rainforest gives place to one of the world’s most antique and precious fauna and flora. This is the world’s biggest rainforest, with more than 75.000 different plant species/km². Up to this day, we still don’t have exact data about the fauna of the rainforest. 1.4 million species are registered, but some scientists say that approximately 5-10 million species could be living here. Thanks to agriculture, more and more forests are destroyed. Farmers are devoted to cut out trees, even in an illegal way. As a result of this, the biodiversity is in danger, and what’s more, the soil erosion is sped up, too.

Why is this year different from the other years?

Because the world hasn’t seen anything like this before. Even if forest fires are „normal” in this area, fires going on for more than a week were rare. So far 73.000 fire cases were registered this year in Brasil, which is 83% more than last year.

What are the consequences of a rainforest fire? What if the „lungs of the world” will disappear?

As we studied in high school, the Amazon rainforest is the lung of the world. But what else did we study in high school, for example about photosynthesis? As we can read on a high school biology site:

„It is well known that plants photosynthesise in the presence of sunlight, consuming carbon dioxide, water and energy, and producing glucose and oxygen. The reverse reaction, respiration, goes on all the time, consuming glucose and oxygen, and providing the plant with energy, whilst releasing water and carbon dioxide. During the day, photosynthesis is dominant, so there is a net consumption of carbon dioxide. At night, photosynthesis stops but respiration continues, so there is a net release of oxygen.”

Dan Nepstad, Amazon expert said the same: the forest produces oxygen, but at the same time, it consumes that oxygen at night. The question is, where can we find the real store of oxygen then? Scott Denning scientist says, that most of the respirable oxygen comes from the ocean. His point of view is that the most urgent problem is not the oxygen, but the endangered species of the forest.

At the same time, we know that the disappearance of the rainforests will bring massive changes in the climate, said David Czabán, biologist.

To sum it up, rainforests have a serious effect on the climate, the ecosystem, the biodiversity, and what’s more, they affect the health of local people too. The amount of CO2 is rising in the atmosphere thanks to the fires, but this amount of CO2 is not even comparable with the CO2 emitted by human activity.

The role of media

It is a tendency today that in case of a disaster, all people on the internet want to help, start to act, or at least share an article, use a hashtag. It is inevitable that misunderstood or false information occur and make huge scandals.  Some celebrities like Madonna, Cristiano Ronaldo, Emmanuel Macron, and even Leonardo DiCaprio gave voice to the rainforest fires. An interesting fact is that some of their posts’ pictures were not taken this year, or they depicted a completely different area.

„Terrifying to think that the Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet, creating 20% of the earth’s oxygen, basically the lungs of the world, has been on fire and burning for the last 16 days running, with literally NO media coverage whatsoever! Why?”- wrote Leonardo DiCaprio

Leo, as one of the biggest climate change activists, even started a donation for Amazon Forest Fund. Until the main leaders of the world spent 20 million dollars on stopping the fires, Leo himself gave 5 million dollars to local brasilian organisations.

It’s obvious that everyone wants to help, even the hungarians. In our small country, hundreds of donations were made, mostly through Facebook. Related to index.hu, hungarians collected more than 20 million HUF to a civil organisation, called Amazonas Watch. But there is something, that we should be aware of. This organisation was established not to stop the forest fires, but to strenghten the rights of local people.

What can happen in the future?

The bad news is that the fires didn’t even stop yet and can continue till this October. What’s more, the brasilian government denied the 20 million dollar donation that was given to help stopping the fires. And even if it would have stopped, the loss would be inestimable. The flora would need decades to regenerate, and some thousand years to fully set back the original conditions.

If you are interested in the interview that Daniel Nepstad gave on how to save the Amazon rainforests, read this article:

Amazon fires: What we know and what we can do

Cover image: euronews.