In 2019, there were more wildfires throughout the Amazon rainforest than any other year in recorded history, and this represents a serious increase in the level of deforestation occurring in South America. The international community is extremely concerned about this situation, given the fact that the Amazon rainforest is a huge supplier of the world's oxygen. At the current rate of deforestation, it won't take much longer than a decade to cripple the oxygen output from the rainforest, and this will cause a ripple effect all around the globe.

For that reason, scientists and a number of other interested parties are taking a hard look at the cause of such a large number of wildfires breaking out along the Amazon last year. Newly elected Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is coming under pressure from a number of conservation agencies around the world, to do more to prevent these wildfires.

However, to this point he has not shown any sense of urgency about preservation of the rainforest, and in fact has removed some restrictions relative to deforestation, so as to help the nation's economy. All this adds up to a rapidly growing concern about the future of the Amazon rainforest and its ability to pump life-saving oxygen into the atmosphere.

What Caused the Amazon Forest Fire?

Every year, literally thousands of fires break out in the Amazon River country, particularly in Brazil and Bolivia, and a certain percentage of these fires can be attributed to dry weather and inadequate rainfall. However the majority of these thousands of wildfires have been triggered by humans who still use the slash-and-burn method to clear land, either for farming or to provide pasture for the cattle.

It doesn't take much for any of these man-made fires to quickly spread out of control, and that's why Brazil alone experienced a record-setting 80,000 fires in 2019. It has been estimated that in the last 50 years more than 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been burned in this manner, and has been converted into pasture or farming land. While that might provide a boost to the Brazilian economy, it certainly detracts from the level of oxygen pumped into the atmosphere by the Amazon rainforest.

Scientists estimate that in as few as 15 years, a tipping point will be reached in the rainforest, and it will no longer be able to supply the substantial amount of oxygen it currently does. More than 20% of all oxygen on earth is produced by the Amazon rainforest, and if those figures are upset, there is little doubt that air quality around the world will be in serious jeopardy, and anyone with breathing difficulties will be in trouble.

What are the Effects of the Fire?

Most scientists consider the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest to be a catastrophic development, and for several reasons. One reason that might not immediately come to mind is the damage that is being done to biodiversity, with numerous plants and animals being expelled from the rainforest. In the Brazilian part of the Amazon alone, there are at least 250 different species of tree which grow naturally in each hectare of land.

Living among those trees are countless hordes of mammals, birds, frogs, insects, and fungi. With plants and animals like this being wiped out on a massive scale, there is no question that some will never recover, and there will be extinctions of various types of plants and animals. It has been estimated that one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction around the world, and that in Latin America the main cause of that extinction is the destruction of the rainforest.

In the 20 year period between 1980 and 2000, more than 42 million hectares of rainforest land were sacrificed to cattle production. Another consequence of the tremendous amount of acreage burned by Amazonian wildfires is the climate change that will certainly result. The amount of carbon which has been released in the atmosphere as a result of all these fires is the equivalent to what would have been released by 48 million automobiles into the atmosphere.

Currently, the Amazon basin acts as a carbon sink, meaning that it absorbs a great deal of the carbon present in the atmosphere. When it reaches a tipping point where it's no longer able to perform that function, it will be transformed into a carbon source, and that will accelerate the greenhouse gas effect tremendously all around the globe. It's also true that a tremendous volume of pollutants has been released into the atmosphere from all the fires of 2019.

Already these fires have been linked to respiratory problems, primarily among children and the elderly. Lastly, scientists have discovered a huge cloud of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere above South America, exiting to other parts of the globe. Carbon monoxide is an extremely toxic gas, and since it's colorless and odorless, it represents a silent killer upon any person whom it might settle.

Is There Anything We Can Do to Prevent These Fires?

As the world looked on in disbelief last year, the Amazon rainforest was consumed by thousands of wildfires, and a good portion of the so-called 'lungs of the planet' were literally wiped off the face of the earth. The situation now has the attention of a great many people around the world, and various funds have started up to help save the Amazon rainforest. However, this is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to what will really be necessary to make a significant impact on reversing the current rate of deforestation.

Funding is not needed to combat wildfires, because that doesn't really treat the source of the problem. What's really needed is to help the millions of poor farmers throughout the Amazon region to earn a living and to support their families in some other way than burning down the rainforest. An initiative is underway to educate farmers about planting and harvesting the rubber from rubber trees, which would allow the trees and the forest to remain intact.

However, this is a very slow process, and as yet it does not have strong government backing, so it's not having a very large impact. If initiatives like this can be supported so that farmers will cease their slash-and-burn methods of creating pasture land for cows, the Amazon rainforest may have a chance to survive. Scientists are now predicting that within 10 or 15 years, the rainforest will have lost too much acreage to continue its role as a main supplier of the world's oxygen, and it may instead become a big contributor of carbon in the atmosphere.

When that happens, the entire global population will suffer.

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