The world’s largest intact forest, the Amazon rainforest covers 2.6 million square miles across nine countries in South America. Approximately 60 percent of the Amazon Basin is in Brazil.
Fires are not a natural phenomenon in the Amazon rainforest. The fires in the Amazon are often started intentionally by people who put short-term profits over humans and the planet. Many of the arsonists are illegal land grabbers burning forests to clear land for other uses, such as cattle ranching, growing animal feed, or illegal logging. This process of destroying trees to clear forested land is known as deforestation.
Both deforestation and fires threaten the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities in the Amazon, the biodiversity of the forest, and the global climate.
Why is the Amazon being burned and deforested?
The main reason for deforestation in the Amazon is agribusiness and meat consumption. Cattle pastures occupy 75% of the deforested area on public lands in the Amazon. Other causes of deforestation include the construction of new highways, logging roads, dams, and mines.
Starting fires in the Amazon is against the law. These illegal fires are used to clear land that is often stolen either from the Brazilian public or from Indigenous Peoples in order to create more cattle pasture and animal feed for the global meat industry.
How do fire and deforestation impact the global climate?
Over the last 40 years, approximately 17% of the Amazon’s total area has been deforested. Scientists have warned that further deforestation could push the Amazon rainforest beyond a tipping point where the moisture and carbon balance of much of the Amazon biome would become broken. The Amazon could effectively become a much dryer ecosystem.
The Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in the planet’s climate by regulating balancing regional and global climate and bringing rain to distant regions. The Amazon also stores large amounts of carbon. When the forest is cut down or burnt down, the carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
What are the impacts of fires in communities in the Amazon?
People who live close to the fires face risks to their homes and livelihoods by the burning and deforestation. The toxic smoke from the Amazon fires also has health impacts on local populations.
How can we fight fires in the Amazon?
The key to fighting fires in the Amazon is preventing them from being started in the first place. The challenges of combating active fires in the vast rainforest are great given the size and remoteness of the Amazon.
How do we stop the deforestation in the Amazon?
In order to combat fires, deforestation, and the rapid loss of biodiversity caused by forest destruction, the Brazilian government must take steps such as to rebuild the environmental law enforcement, use effective tools such as designated “Protected Areas,” and to recognize Indigenous Lands that the rights of traditional communities.
The global community must also take responsibility to fix the food system. The global meat industry — and its paying customers — have historically been willing to sacrifice forests for profits.
Source: Amazon rainforest fires 2022: Facts, causes, and climate impacts
Greenpeace International 2023, CC BY 2.0