Utku Perktaş

Dr. Utku Perkta? is a professor of biogeography in the Biology Department at Hacettepe University.

Global warming seems to have infected the lungs of the world; wildfires continue to threaten South America, the Amazon, and more specifically, the rainforests in Brazil. (Photo: Pixabay)

Countries on fire: the outbreak continues

Today, all countries in the world are struggling with deaths due to the Covid-19 outbreak. There are fires burning in many countries, but it’s due to the outbreak. The number of cases has reached almost 40 million. The number of deaths has already exceeded 1 million. North and South America constantly make the news. Brazil ranks second after the USA in terms of deaths. We cannot exactly predict how much longer the burn of this outbreak will last. However, the fever of the world has been rising for a long time as global warming affects different parts of the world in different ways. Global warming seems to have infected the lungs of the world; wildfires continue to threaten South America, the Amazon, and more specifically, the rainforests in Brazil.

Rainforest fires: an urgent problem

Fires in the Amazon region increased by 13{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} in the first nine months of the year compared to 2019. The rainforest region is battling the worst fires of the last decade due to global warming, according to data from the space research agency (INPE – National Institute for Space Research). The satellites in September recorded 32,017 burning areas in the Amazon, an increase of 61{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} compared to the same month of 2019. The vast Amazon rainforest is experiencing a recurrence of the devastating fires from a year ago, and scientists and critics say that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro bears the ultimate responsibility for this issue.

The Amazon fire season is getting longer each year

Data collected by the INPE showed that in 2019 fires increased in August and decreased significantly in the following months, but this year’s peak was more permanent. Both August and September of 2020 seemed to have long passed last year’s records. US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has called for a $20 billion donation to the world to stop the deforestation of the Amazon. However, president Jair Bolsonaro criticized Biden’s proposal as a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty and a sign of humiliation.

The Amazon is experiencing a more severe drought than last year. Scientists say global warming is triggering the warming in the North Atlantic Ocean and pulling moisture out of South America. The result is a drought on land due to global warming, which triggers fires. We witnessed a similar situation with the unstoppable forest fires on the  Australian continent in the news. The Indian Ocean dipole had caused Australia’s aridity and constant fires on the continent.

Global warming is drying up the rainforests

Satellite observations made in early October showed that there were 28,892 active fires in the Amazon. The fires of last September included not only recently deforested areas but also increasingly untouched forests. This means that the rainforests are becoming drier and more prone to fire. Based on all these observations, climate change due to global warming is now perceived as a threat that will cause worldwide deforestation in the near future.

Fires also threaten biodiversity

 The Amazon rainforest is known to be one of the regions with the highest biodiversity in the world. It is home to about 30{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} of the world’s known species and 390 billion trees belonging to more than 16,000 different species.  These fires also threaten this high biodiversity irreversibly. The warming of the North Atlantic Ocean is also driving the drought in the Brazilian Pantanal, the largest wetland area in the world.

Golden Parakeet

Different species, especially many bird species that breed in the wetland, are under threat in a number of ways. Likewise, an analysis of the relationship between climate change and fire revealed that 23{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} of the wetlands that are home to the densest jaguar population in the world are on fire. Habitats of the Golden Parakeet, one of the bird species, have also been threatened by the fires in the Amazon. This bird species is already considered being threatened by deforestation, and this impact has been exacerbated by fires.

Other species, including the Belem Curassow, a large gray bird that sings at night, and the Black-winged Trumpeter, that share similar habitats are also under threat according to the national action plan of Brazil’s Chico Mendes Biodiversity Conservation Institute. Moreover, some migratory bird species will also begin to arrive from North America to the Amazon in the coming months, and bird species densities will increase in places. Due to the damaged habitats, these species will be squeezed into limited habitats in much more restricted areas to shelter.

Wildfire politics and the need to raise awareness

The US President Donald Trump assured at a press conference on California wildfires that the weather will start to cool down. He said “watch,” and added, “I don’t think science knows the truth about the climate change.” Underestimating our situation by leaders is one of the most important threats to our near future. Despite all these statements, nature volunteers, birdwatchers, journalists, local people and scientists are doing their best to draw attention to global warming and say “Brazil is burning” in their statements. Because they know that the Amazons are the cornerstone of global climatic stability. Without the Amazons, we certainly wouldn’t have one of the most important buffers against climate change. Yes, by paying attention to the phrase “Brazil is on fire”, let’s not ignore climate change for a livable world before it is too late, and let’s keep raising our awareness.