For weeks now, the Amazon Rainforest has been ablaze. Massive fires have spread through the area causing devastating destruction. Fires are not new to forests and not new to the Amazon, but the fires have been increasing in number and size for years now, culminating in the events of this year. Fire can be a natural, beneficial part of a forest’s ecosystem, burning out the underbrush and allowing the soil to be rejuvenated. Most farmers burn parts of their land on a cycle for this very reason, it is called a controlled burn. In the Amazon this practice has a slightly different name, slash and burn. Clear cutting of hundreds of acres of land has become the norm in countries like Brazil, who's borders contain more than 60% of the amazon. The best way for the land to be useful again is to burn it all immediately after removing the trees. If this was done in a controlled environment it would be alright, routine even, but it is being done carelessly with very little regulation. This causes the fires to spread into the uncut forest where a prolonged dry season has kindled disaster.
The normality of fires in the Amazon is partially to blame for the delayed reaction to the giant blaze, but there is a lot more to the story. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fought media attention to the fires tooth and nail, understanding that the lack of policies around burning make his party look bad. Brazil’s policies are far behind other countries, the measurement system for counting fires per year only counts the number of fires, ignoring size or time that the fire burned. The fires could only be ignored for so long though. Smoke could be seen from space and many indigenous tribes were forced from their homes. Eventually the media slowly picked up the story. Environmental conservationists began to raise alarm that the rainforest is one of the last backstops keeping climate change at bay. The large expanse of trees bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmosphere. It is estimated that between 6 and 20 percent of the global oxygen.
The news of the fires and how far they have spread became one of the main topics of the 45th G7 Summit. A meeting of global leaders to discuss different topics of value such as freedom, human rights, and the environment. The summit brought together more than $22 million in aid for fighting the fires, but were promptly rejected by President Bolsonaro. The Brazilian president claimed that the gesture was an attack on their national sovereignty and claimed he would not be told what to do with the land in his country. President Trump stands with Bolsonaro’s original decision tweeting “He [Bolsonaro] is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil.” As international pressure continues to build though, Bolsonaro says he will rethink the offer. The president took $12.2 million in aid from the United Kingdom, but wants an apology from France’s President Emmanuel Macron for criticisms about the way the country has dealt with the fires before taking any more.
On August 24th, weeks after the fires became uncontrollable, the Brazilian military was deployed, sending 44,000 troops to six different states. Out of the 778 municipalities that make up Brazil’s portion of the Amazon, only 110 of them contain a fire department and those departments are understaffed and underfunded. The country as a whole lacks the infrastructure to fight fires of this magnitude and needs the aid their president refused. The other countries that make up the Amazon Rainforest are in very similar conditions, and many of them are far worse off than the industrialized Brazil. Bolivia, for example, have brought in modified Boeing 747 Supertankers to drop water on the fire, but this is an outdated form of fighting fires in the rainforest and is extremely expensive while being minimally effective. In the coming days there is hope that the governments will put aside their politics and accept the aid that they desperately need.