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The Amazon is one of Earth's greatest natural treasures,
but this year it has been ravaged by a record number of fires.
It has led to calls for action from around the world,
with much finger-pointing over what — or who — is to blame.
More than 30,000 forest fires have been detected in the Amazon in August alone.
Over the course of the year, the number of fire outbreaks soared to its highest level since records began in 2013.
It has triggered a wave of global panic, with world leaders, environmental groups and celebrities
all calling for an urgent international response.
The flames have even been visible from space.
NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station have observed plumes of dark smoke
billowing out of the rainforest.
Strong winds have pushed the smoke as far as 1,700 miles away,
causing a daytime blackout in Brazil's largest city of Sao Paolo.
Sometimes referred to as the “lungs of the world,”
the Amazon has captured people's imagination like few other places on Earth.
To understand why, we first need to think about its history.
For many, many years, the Amazon has been a source of fascination for people all over the world.
Teeming with biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest is part of the Amazon biome,
which spans around 2.6 million square miles, or twice the size of India.
Unparalleled in scale, the Amazon biome cuts across nine countries in South America,
with Brazil making up more than half.
In the 1960s, the Brazilian government, which was then led by military rulers,
decided it was time to prioritize economic development,
turning the world's largest tropical rainforest into an economic engine for the country.
This included bulldozing several roads through the Amazon, clearing the land for large-scale
agriculture and allowing settlers to move into lightly inhabited areas.
In doing so, Brazil's military dictatorship destroyed the rainforest at an astonishing speed.
The international response was relatively muted at first.
But as people started to realize the extent of the damage that was being done,
a flurry of anti-deforestation campaigns followed.
That international pressure eventually worked. In the early millennium, Brazil began cracking down
on forest destruction, implementing policies designed to dramatically prevent deforestation,
an issue long seen as a cornerstone of global climate policy.
The measures were described by environmentalists as a “big success,”
with more protected areas and reserves designated to indigenous people.
At the same time, Brazil's agricultural production continued to increase as well.
Climate scientists say this proves development and conservation can go hand and hand.
That began to change to in 2019,
when a new government coincided with a sharp increase in deforestation rates.
So, what is it that is causing the Amazon to burn?
It all boils down to money.
Many of the Amazon's forest fires are set on purpose.
After loggers are done chopping down trees and harvesting the lumber,
the remaining vegetation is usually burned.
This is done by people hoping to make a profit off the land, by selling it to farmers and ranchers.
And with the Amazon several months into its dry season,
all it takes is a single spark for a fire to blaze out of control.
Environmental activists believe those deliberately setting fires
have been emboldened by Brazil's contentious leader, Jair Bolsonaro.
They say it is unsurprising that Bolsonaro's vision for more economic development in the Amazon
has coincided with surging deforestation in recent months — pointing to data from
Brazil's own space institute, which shows a Manhattan-sized area was lost every day in July.
In a repeat of history, these actions in the Amazon have sparked international outrage,
much to Bolsonaro's annoyance.
So, why then is Brazil's government effectively telling the rest of the world to mind its own business?
Since coming to power, Brazil's president has repeatedly said he believes South America's
largest country should open the Amazon up to business interests.
He sees the protected lands as a hindrance to economic growth.
The long-time climate skeptic not only angrily dismissed the chorus of international concern
over the Amazon's forest fires, he also rejected proposals of foreign aid.
Bolsonaro believes it is only for Brazil and its neighbors to debate and make decisions about the Amazon.
He even told a group of the world's most powerful leaders that their plans to discuss the forest fires
without the participation of any Amazonian countries, evoked a “misplaced colonial mindset.”
However, despite not wanting other countries to interfere, he has admitted that Brazil
does not have the resources it needs to fight the fires in an area as large as the Amazon.
With little sign of the forest fires dying down any time soon, a key question for many is,
what does this all mean when it comes to climate change?
The United Nations has recognized the intensifying climate crisis as “the defining issue of our time,”
with a recent report calling the phenomenon “the greatest challenge to sustainable development.”
The Amazon's role in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen
makes it a critical defence mechanism in helping to slow the pace of global warming.
When forests burn, carbon is released in the form of CO2, which adds to levels in the atmosphere.
On top of that, the loss of trees in the Amazon reduces the ability of the forest as a whole to absorb carbon.
Scientists are unsure exactly how the decline of the Amazon could impact the global climate.
But, at the very least, rainfall patterns across North America, Europe and Africa are likely to increase.
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And do let us know if there are any other topics you think we should be covering.
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Why is the Amazon burning? | CNBC Explains

261 Folder Collection
楊皓荃 published on December 4, 2019
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