The world is holding its breath and crossing its fingers as it watches the fires of the Amazon burn. But is there a more practical solution?
What’s all the fuss about?
After years of decline, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon is climbing again: since August last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 6,404.8km2 of forest has been lost. Fake news aside, most scientists regard this as a crisis which could irrevocably damage Earth’s ecosystem.
How big is the rainforest?
Covering an area of 5.5m km2, and home to 390bn trees, the Amazon rainforest spreads across nine countries and is the most biodiverse ecosystem on land. Unfortunately, it is also home to millions of cattle and vast reserves of oil and gas, as well as copper, tin, bauxite, manganese, iron ore and gold.
Who’s to blame for the recent fires?
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro says NGOs and environmentalists are lighting fires to make him look bad. Many people blame Bolsonaro’s economic policies and his reluctance to punish those who exploit the forest illegally. In Brazil itself, cattle ranchers, miners, loggers and wildlife traffickers are doing the damage, but you could say we are all responsible – for living beyond Earth’s means.
Does Bolsonaro have a point when he calls European criticism colonialism?
Not really, but he is right to argue that his country cannot be blamed for all the world’s problems. As Sylvia Coutinho, head of financial services provider UBS Brazil, noted: “It is one of the world’s greenest countries: over 60% covered with vegetation – and about 45% of its energy comes from renewables, compared with a global average of 14%.” That said, the recently-agreed Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, which plans to build roads and railway lines across the region is a cause for concern.
So what’s the answer?
Coutinho says a new development model, built on the region’s bio-economy, with stringent action against illegal land grabs, could protect the Amazon and livelihoods of the 34m people who live there. If conserving land can be economically profitable and environmentally sustainable, the rainforest could flourish.
People in peril
It’s not just trees that are at risk. Among the 350 ethnic groups indigenous to the Amazon is the Akuntsu. After violent attacks by ranchers – and exposure to modern viruses – only four members of the tribe survive.