Importance of Natural Resources

The Amazon is Burning: Fires, Brazil, and Ecological Disaster | Botany After Dark, Episode 3


Greetings guys, gals, and non-binary pals! Welcome back to Botany After Dark! My name is Kate, and I will be your host for
this journey. Today, we head to the Amazon. While I would rather say that all is well,
or perhaps detail the impacts of natIve hallucinogens or adaptogens on the body, that is not today’s
topic. Instead, I come to you with far more dire
news: The Amazon rainforest, is burning and has
been for 3 weeks. The very lungs of the planet, are on fire,
the skies clogged with smoke. The forest is burning at a rate of one football
pitch, or soccer field per minute. The smoke field alone covers about 1.2 million
square miles, at the last reports from NASA. That amounts to a smoke cloud spanning a full
third of the United States. A cloud thick enough from fires burning relatively
unchecked for weeks that the Brazilian state of Amazonas has declared a state of emergency
due to inhospitable conditions. According to the National Institute for Space
Research (or Inpe, an acronym for Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), over 72,000
distinct fires have been detected this year alone and more than 9,500 of those since last
Thursday. This number of fires “spontaneously” erupting
is unprecedented, far surpassing any other records since the fires started being counted
in 2013, and upwards of an 85% increase in this year alone. Due to the inherently humid nature of the
rainforest, it is near impossible for even a fraction of those to occur naturally. Unlike the ever prevalent brush fires in my
native California, the Amazon is not in any capacity dry enough for that. However, while relatively fireproof from naturally-occurring,
accidental fires, this does not extend to those set with intent. Wet wood still burns, it just smokes terribly
and may well take an accelerant to catch. While slash and burn practices are traditional
forest maintenance and clearance mechanisms, it is also heavily used in illegal logging
practices. This is especially concerning since Brazil’s
current President, Jair Bolsonaro ran on a platform that included the explicit desire
to open the Amazon to development in his campaign for office, which he won last October. He, and others like him, argue that there
are not enough people living in the country’s protected regions to warrant that much space. This is rather reminiscent of the supposed
justification US politicians cited before enacting the Indian Removal Act of 1830, resulting
in the horrific Trail of Tears that caused almost 150,000 people to be uprooted from
their ancestral lands through forced relocation. While there are and were other elements in
play, as each region and occurrence is unique and we do not act in a vacuum, the themes
remain. A similar situation is occurring with India’s
forest dwellers, though that will be discussed at a later time. The Amazon is host and life force to so many
unique biomes. There are countless species that only exist
under that protective, humid canopy. Literal millions of threatened beings exist
in a multidimensional, cohesive ecosystem. Over 800,000 indigenous people live in 50
demarcated territories across Brazil, utilizing about 12% of available land. This accounts for anywhere from 400 to 500
often culturally and linguistically distinct tribes. Most of these communities are located in the
Amazon forest, some being totally isolated. As previously stated, the Amazon is considered
the Earth’s lungs. Between the ancient trees’ vast canopy and
the vegetation sheltered beneath, this heavily forested region is responsible for producing
20% of all the planet’s oxygen. The Amazon River is one of the most biologically
diverse locations on Earth, inhabited by vulnerable and threatened species, just as the rest of
the rainforest. It snakes through 4,000 miles of this vulnerable
territory and is often used as a roadway between isolated tribes. For some of these communities, the river is
the only accessible path. Maintaining a 78 degree, Fairenheight, or
25.6 degree Celsius average temperature with heavy rainfall and consequently high humidity,
the region’s biodiversity is outstanding. A 2005 study published in the journal Conservation
Biology estimated that Brazil, which holds over half of the rainforest, has over 170,000
different species. It is estimated that this includes over 1,200
species of birds, 430 mammal species, 378 reptile species, and 427 amphibian species. Being that the publication is now 14 years
old, it is highly likely that that number is higher, as others are likely to have been
identified in the interim. According to the Nature Conservancy, for example,
there are over 400 species of birds represented in a 4 square-mile section of forest. This is the legacy of the country prioritizing
ecology, biodiversity, and environmental protections for the last two decades. However, with the current administration in
power, the next survey may well report a significant decrease in this number. President Bolsonaro and his ilk are seeking
to undo the protections put in place to protect this vulnerable space and its inhabitants
and has actually encouraged illegal logging and mining on multiple occasions. He has likened the indigenous communities
living in these protected lands to animals in a zoo, there for observation, but not deserving
of personal autonomy or cultural consideration. Last month, Emyra Waiãpi, a community leader
of the Waiãpi, was found stabbed to death near the village of Mariry. The indigenous people of Mariry fled to the
larger, neighboring village of Aramirã at this time, where gunshots were heard several
days later. While the Waiãpi maintain a highly traditional
society, only allowing authorized outsiders in, they put out a call for official aid,
asking for urgent police and army assistance. To quote the Guardian, “Illegal gold mining
is at epidemic proportions in the Amazon and the heavily polluting activities of garimpeiros
– as miners are called – devastate forests and poison rivers with mercury. About 50 garimpeiros were reported to have
invaded the 600,000-hectare Waiãpi indigenous reserve in the state of Amapá. […] “The garimpeiros invaded the indigenous
village and are there until today. They are heavily armed, they have machine
guns. That is why we asking for help from the federal
police,” said Kureni Waiãpi, 26, a member of the tribe who lives in the nearest town
of Pedra Branca do Amapari, two hours away and 189km from Amapá state capital Macapá. “If nothing is done they will start to fight.” ” Bolsonaro has compared the indigenous populations
to “prehistoric men” and says that he is “looking for the ‘first world’ to
explore these areas in partnership and add value.” This is the reason given for having an economic
relationship with the United States. From what we have already seen of the Trump
administration’s ecological policy, this could be more catastrophic than it already
is. Even with evidence stacked against him, Bolsonaro
claims that he and his administration have had no role in the increased fires or perpetuation
of general destruction in the region. Instead, he claims that the fault lies squarely
with the NGOs working to oppose him in an apparent effort to make him look bad. I will say that again. The current president of the region responsible
for creating 20% of the world’s oxygen and counteracting at least some extant greenhouse
emissions is both a climate-change denyer and blames those working to maintain threatened
ecology and biodiversity, protect vulnerable populations, and stop abject environmental
and humanitarian atrocities from occurring for painting himself and his administration
in a bad light. Be aware that while more needs to be done,
there are also several petitions circulating regarding deforestation and environmental
abuses to the Amazon, the most prominent of which I will link below. Something must be done. As it stands now, one of the planet’s richest,
most biodiverse locations is under attack, yet again. Between the fires, mining, logging, and likely
other less publicized occurrences, the situation is dire. Since I began writing this two days ago, the
prevalence of fire in the region has grown from 84% to above 85%. Though I may not have all the answers, awareness
and vigilance greatly assists situations such as this. I plan to cover updates to this situation
as it unfolds either here, on my blog or on my YouTube channel. Perhaps all three. The world is watching, Brazil. What will you do? If you look in the episode description, there
are links to my blog and YouTube channel, where I talk more about plants, as well as
my Patreon and relevant social media links. To that end, I would like to thank Rob Nelson
for being a Patreon supporter. He runs Untamed Science, a channel discussing
and supporting biodiversity and conservation efforts, which is linked below. In light of current efforts by several world
powers, this is especially needed. Also, if you would like to start your own
podcast, I would recommend Pinecast. It is the platform I am using and while I
have only been posting for a short time, creator support has been comprehensive and swift,
and the interface is easy to navigate. Though the service is free, that version only
allots for the upload and posting of 10 episodes at a time. If you do decide to upgrade, you can use coupon
code r-a19fe9 for 40% off for 4 months, and support Botany After Dark. To all my listeners at home, work, or somewhere
in between, thank you for tuning in. I’ll talk to you next week about Poison
Oak. Should be an interesting show. Have a good one. This is Kate, signing off.


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