The Planet’s Lungs are Suffocating

Christina Kuriakose, Staff Writer

In Brazil, the world’s largest rainforest known as “The Amazon,” is burning. The Amazon is home to 10 percent of the world’s animals. It covers nine countries and has waterways that stretch 6,840 km. It also produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Every year, fires happen in the Amazon. The fires have been calming down since 2010, but now in 2019 the fires have reached alarming rates, increasing 83 percent since 2018. 

Last week alone, 9,000 wildfires were raging simultaneously across the vast rainforest of Brazil and spreading into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. According to INPE, you can even see the fires from space. Throughout July, over 7,200 square miles burned from the fires. So what caused the fires? Most of the time, fires in the rainforest are caused by common things, such as dry weather, wind, and heat. However, meteorologist Haley Brink says the fires “are definitely human-induced.”  Farmers and ranchers have long used fire to clear land and are likely behind the unusually large number of fires burning in the Amazon today. The burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for a mechanized and modern agribusiness project. Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, says 99% percent of the fires result from human actions “either on purpose or by accident.”  

The animals in the Amazon will also be majorly affected by the fires. No species in the rain forest is adapted to fire. In some forests across the U.S, wildfires are part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Animals are adapted to cope with it; many even rely on it to thrive. The black-bellied woodpecker, for example, native to the American West, only nests in burnt-out trees and eats the beetles that infest burned wood. However,  the Amazon is different. The rainforest doesn’t really burn. While fires do happen naturally, they are usually small and burn low to the ground. Then, they are soon put out by rain. In this situation, animals have very few choices. They can try to hide by burrowing or going into water. They can be displaced or they can perish. In this situation, a lot of animals will die, from flames, heat from the flames, or smoke inhalation. 

We as humans will also be majorly affected by the Amazon fires. The world population gets nearly 20 percent of its oxygen from the Amazon but the growing fire may soon cut supply of clean air and deliver harmful effects. The sky over Sao Paulo in Brazil this week turned black after thick smoke from the burning forest reached the city. Smoke and ash reportedly travelled nearly 2,000 miles away, which caused darkness during the day. Many people who were exposed to the smoke or close to the fire are at risk of serious health problems. The exposure may damage cells and the respiratory tract that cause poor flow of oxygen around the body. Also, conditions such as COPD, asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis can be made worse with smoke inhalation. Long term exposure to smoke can also lead to infections in the lungs. Such conditions could lead to a severe injury that may require inhalers to support breathing for the rest of their lives. 

The Amazon fires are taking a great toll on majority of this earth. If these human-induced fires continue, life as we know will never be the same. Right now, the Amazon is suspected to be gone in 100 years, but with humans speeding up the process, it may be much sooner.