Biodiversity, or the number of existing plant and animal species, is one of the most vital aspects of our planet. Ecosystems with high biodiversity can more efficiently process pollution and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, keeping our air clean and climate stable. These high-biodiversity areas are also better suited to recover after experiencing natural disasters, as each species plays a unique part in self-restoration. Additionally, biodiversity provides us with a myriad of opportunities for scientific research and is even a source for many of our most used products such as coffee, vanilla and chocolate. As it effects nearly every aspect of our lives, the protection of our planet's biodiversity should be a top global priority.
However, on January 1st, 2019, Jair Bolsonaro was elected as the 38th President of Brazil and initiated an agenda that would result in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Despite being a member of the Social Liberal Party, Bolsonaro’s political views are decidedly conservative, nationalist and radically anti-communist. Upon being elected, he made it clear that the protection of the Amazon forest was shackling Brazil’s economy and ability to compete with global markets. As a result, Bolsonaro has spent the first year of his dictatorship-style regime supporting the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon.
Just this past August, reports of massive fires burning down large portions of the Amazon made global news headlines. And while many of these reports made it plain to see that deforestation was a clear cause of these fires, Bolsonaro continues to point the finger at annual farming activity needed to fertilize plantations. However, aerial shots of the cleared land show evidence of deforestation activity in the area. By clearing wildlands via illegal logging and burning, Bolsonaro aims to ramp up agriculture, mining and ranching efforts in Brazil, consistent with his political agenda of economic strength over environmental protection.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, covering much of Brazil, Peru, Colombia and parts of other South American countries. It’s one of the most unique places in the world, with an astonishing amount of biodiversity. In fact, 10% of all the species in the world call the Amazon rainforest home. It also contains nearly 40,000 different types of plants and almost 2.5 million species of insects. Multi-billion dollar industries such as agriculture and personal care are intrinsically dependent on the survival of these different species. Even our modern understanding of medicine is closely linked to the biodiversity, with nearly 25% of all drugs in Western medicine derived from rainforest species.
In addition, the Amazon plays a vital role in the regulation of our climate. Because of the millions upon millions of trees that make up the unique rainforest, it’s able to absorb much of the carbon dioxide in the air and convert it into oxygen through a process you probably know as photosynthesis. Each year, the Amazon absorbs 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide, making it one of the most integral parts of our global ecosystem. Should the deforestation of the Amazon continue, carbon dioxide levels will exponentially increase, accelerating our already dire climate change crisis.
While the burning of the Amazon has seen a slight reduction after nearly three months of consistent and devastating fires, efforts to reduce deforestation and repair the Amazon are drastically insufficient. In fact, experts say that Brazil, which has decided to honor the Paris Agreement on climate change, has absolutely no chance of meeting its goals of greatly reducing deforestation and restoring 46,300 square miles of cleared land.
Although the Amazon may have seen the worst of the fires of 2019, environmental scientists predict that this precious rainforest may not be a rainforest for long. If current deforestation levels are not put to a stop, the Amazon will eventually become a dry wasteland that will produce carbon dioxide instead of absorbing it. This would be devastating to the maintenance of our global climate, resulting in a snowball effect that would have repercussions around the world.
Being far away from these horrific events, it’s easy to pretend like they don’t exist. However, should sea-levels continue to rise, millions of American families in iconic low-elevation cities like New York and Miami will be displaced. The rising sea-levels will also create more coastal marshlands with low circulation, which will accelerate the spread of mosquito-borne diseases within the US, such as West Nile virus.
However, for many indigenous tribes, it’s already too late. To further boost the economy, Bolsonaro has supported efforts that result in protected lands being burned or cleared for development. Many of these indigenous people, some of which have been living in the rainforest for generations upon generations, have reported being displaced through violent and illegal means. Take a closer look at how the systematic displacement is affecting indigenous tribes in the video below.
If anything, the declining state of the Amazon rainforest has opened the eyes of many world leaders and environmental activists, if our current climate change crisis wasn’t dire enough. Following the conclusion of the G7 meetings in Biarritz concerning environmental protection, French President Macron announced that $20 million would be pledged to restore and protect the future of the Amazon rainforest. However, in response to this humanitarian offer, Bolsonaro has accused Macron of having a “colonialist” agenda and has rejected all assistance from G7 countries.
The current situation regarding the Amazon forest and the Bolsonaro presidency is undoubtedly a tipping point in the fight against climate change. With 58.4% of the Amazon contained within Brazil, its long-term survival rests in the hands of the Brazilian government. If efforts to reverse this environmental damage continue to be resisted, the Amazon and its unique biodiversity may cease to exist all together, resulting in global repercussions that will effect all life on Earth.