By Stacey Leasca
August 26, 2019

The Amazon Rainforest is on fire. And, right now, there is little end in sight.

Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil.
Andre Penner/AP/Shutterstock

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), there have been at least 72,843 fires in Brazil since the start of 2019. More than half of these fires began in the Amazon region. According to CNN, this means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields worth of rainforest is being destroyed every minute. Here’s everything you need to know about the fires and how they will affect everyone on Earth.

A lush forest sits next to a field of charred trees felled by wildfires near Porto Velho, Brazil.
Victor R Caivano/AP/Shutterstock

Where is the Amazon Rainforest?

The Amazon Rainforest spans eight countries including Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. But, about 60 percent of the rainforest is contained in Brazil.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, it is home to one in ten known species on Earth, is made up of about 1.4 billion acres of forests, and contains half of the planet's remaining tropical forests. It accounts for some 2.6 million square miles in the Amazon basin or about 40 percent of the continent of South America.

Why is the Amazon Rainforest important to the global population?

The Amazon Rainforest is often referred to as “the lungs” for the planet. That’s because of its ability to breathe in carbon and breathe out oxygen. However, as The New York Times reported, if enough of the Amazon burns it could turn into an arid desert region, unable to process carbon at all. Currently, the Amazon produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, the Rainforest Trust explained. It added, “For reference, if the entire Amazon forest was lost, and that carbon was emitted into the atmosphere, it would be the equivalent of up to 140 years of all human-induced carbon emissions.”

The locations of the fires, shown in orange, have been overlain on nighttime imagery acquired by VIIRS. In these data, cities and towns appear white; forested areas appear black; and tropical savannas and woodland (known in Brazil as Cerrado) appear gray. Note that fire detections in the Brazilian states of Para and Amazonas (C-top) are concentrated in bands along the highways BR-163 and BR-230. The intensification of the fires, caused by the severe drought, high temperatures and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, has drawn criticism over the Brazilian Government's lack of action.
NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

How did the Amazon Rainforest fires begin?

The current fires in the Amazon Rainforest were not started by climate change. Instead, these fires were likely started on purpose as part of a deforestation effort to make way for cattle grazing ground. But, as The New York Times added, climate change can still intensify these fires as they can spread more quickly and burn even hotter due to warmer conditions. Though this activity is still considered illegal, The Times explained, farmers may feel more emboldened to burn areas in the rainforest as they no longer fear punishment from the Brazilian government, specifically from its current president, Jair Bolsonaro.

"It's the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry,” CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said as to why the farmers may want to burn now. “[Farmers] wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that's what we're suspecting is going on down there."

Bolsonaro, The Times reported, blames nongovernmental organizations for the fires instead.

Who is fighting the fires now?

The Brazilian government sent 44,000 troops to assist in local fire fighting efforts, USA Today reported. On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the G7 countries — which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States — plan to release $22 million in relief aid as well. Macron noted that the funds will go toward bringing in more fire-fighting planes. However, Bolsonaro wasn’t exactly welcoming the help. He told reporters, Macron was launching "unreasonable and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon region," and "hiding his intentions behind the idea of an 'alliance' of G7 countries,” BBC reported. But, Brazil’s environment minister Ricardo Salles said he welcomed the assistance.

How can people help?

The Rainforest Alliance is always open to donations, which go directly toward educational programming to help better educate people and businesses on how they can help.

And, as CNN noted, you could always cut down on your consumption of animal products like beef. It explained, cattle are responsible for 41 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock. That accounts for 14.5 percent of total global emissions. These very cattle are the reason farmers are cutting down vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest in the first place.

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