Amazon - An alarm bell


Debapriya Mukherjee
The Earth is already in the Anthropocene, an era where Homo sapiens records its in?uence and intervention on the planet.  Several cycles of unsustainable economic exploitation have transformed many biomes in the world and have contributed to climate change. In at least 25 of the so-called global hotspots, the Amazon is one of them, the changes are so broad that there is a high risk of extinction of animal and plant species.  To change this, ecological restoration is one of the prime global agendas. Maintaining healthy ecosystems are cost effective whereas restoration of collapsed ecosystems particularly forest is cost prohibitive. To what extent do concerned authorities all over the world have high values and regards for the ecosystem, especially forest considering its value in human life?  Now there is clear evident that top authority in Brazil reportedly ignored the warnings sent by the Brazilian environmental officials and federal prosecutors about the planning of farmers and land-grabbers -- a day of coordinated fires. Are they doing it right?  Absolutely – “NO”. On the contrary, this actually gives a signal to people on the ground that they can do whatever they want for their vested interest. Many of the present threats persist because illegal practices particularly fires intending to deforestation are not e?ciently prosecuted by those responsible for enforcing the law. These activities are an immediate concern for climate change because these fires have released 200 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — about three times as much as all of the wildfires in California last year.
According to the scientists, by the end of the year, greenhouse gas emissions will be similar to those in 2009, when clearing and burning the Brazilian Amazon released about 500 million tons of CO2. That is equivalent to roughly 1% of the world’s total emissions in a year. Another biggest concern is that a remarkable increase in illegal deforestation would deprive the world of a critical buffer against climate change. Sadly, the Amazon forest will lose its inherent power to maintain its own weather.  The moisture that sustains the Amazon evaporates off the Atlantic Ocean and falls as rain when it reaches land. Normally, that would be the end of the story. But in the Amazon, billions of trees conspire to put some of that water back into the air, making rain for the rest of the forest and the agricultural areas downwind. Every leaf releases small amounts of water when it opens its pores to take in CO2, a key ingredient for photosynthesis. If trees in this way are removed, that cycle will collapse and that could bring catastrophic consequences not only for people in South America, but also for everyone around the world.
Wildfires and burning deforested land are common during the Amazon’s dry seasons but peaked this month to more than 26000– the highest August figure since 2010. Fire scars preferentially occur where there is greater sun exposure. The proximity to urban areas, roads and highways, damaged regeneration favored both deforestation and wild?re events. Reconstructing and paving the highway would lead to deforestation of up to 39 million hectares of forest and CO2 emissions exceeding 4.8 billion tons by 2050. The main arguments for the construction of this road are to facilitate connectivity of main production area to the rest of Brazil through a highway system.
But these construction activities accelerate increased deforestation, loss of natural resources and biodiversity, increased carbon emissions, impacts on indigenous populations, swelling human populations through migration, overload of urban services, and the high costs of road maintenance. These adverse impacts on environment cannot be justified simply by  economic evidence.
The environmental disaster has taken on international dimensions and overshadowed the G7 meeting in Biarritz. Nowadays conservation of the Amazon forest is essential for the planet because it contains more than half of the world’s rainforests and is home to about a quarter of the planet’s animal and plant species. All these bene?ts or ecosystem services that this forest provides, are essential for sustainability of human kind.  Despite these benefits, this forest is consistently being destroyed, devastated,  and converted to other land uses due to fires at a rate more rapid than any other ecosystem.  Most of the ?res have an anthropic origin,usually associated with slash-and-burn practice.  Deforestation in the Amazon contributes signi?cantly to the intensi?cation of greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of the release of carbon from forest biomass and soil. Excess greenhouse gases act as insulators by absorbing radiated energy, forming a kind of ‘thermal blanket’ around the earth, retaining a greater amount of heat, and preventing it from returning to space. The advance of deforestation could increase temperatures in the Amazon; this is catastrophic for the planet, resulting in the death not only of the forest but also mankind. The  increasing commodities exports and higher income facilitate the anthropogenic fires, deforestation behind them,  leading to generating greater pressure on natural resources. It has been also observed that government has reduced the power of environment regulatory authorities to supervise constructors to stimulate the construction of highways and dams in the forest region, which could probably increase deforestation. Politicians influenced by agribusiness group in lieu of financial support often promote the production of agricultural commodities  and  approved some measures that hampers  the reduction in deforestation.  Alarmingly, no effective policy has been framed in Brazil to promote reduction    of Amazon ?res. However, on mounting pressure of public and from other countries for these anthropogenic activities, the president of Brazil promised to combat fires and illegal deforestation.
Historically, Amazon rainforest became increasingly fragmented by the generalized and rapid intensi?cation of anthropogenic activities. Complex environmental con?icts mostly associated with land use, expansion of the agricultural frontier, livestock, illegal mining, forest ?res, illicit crops, infrastructure expansion, urbanization and extraction of wood has caused habitat fragmentation, reduction in the quantity and quality of water supply and loss of biodiversity. Root cause of these rampant anthropogenic activities is the demographic and economic factors. This devastation is particularly alarming because it comes after more than a decade of progress toward preserving the world’s largest rainforest. Now it is  a  global fight not a fight of Amazonian countries.
In this view it is pertinent to mention that the conservation and restoration of the Amazon are the emergent needs.
The policy integration and integrated planning by institutional arrangement must be encouraged to limit the environmental degradation and forest fires. Though enactment of a management plan or other regulatory instruments  can play crucial  role  but it  will not be e?ective without the engagement of the local populace to adopt good environmental practices and denounce illegal ones, and the action of public servants to ensure that governance practices strictly adhere to existing legislation . Capacity building and engagement of local peoples should be a priority of conservation-oriented activities. In particular, indigenous peoples, whose lands cover 22.5% of the Amazonian biome and overlap with over 70% of Amazonian protected areas, will play a critical role in determining the future of Amazonian forests. The natural regeneration management and wild?re suppression are also  a good strategy of ecological restoration of this forest. Most importantly fire control is essential for the success of the Forest restoration because. Slash-and-burn practices inhibit regeneration in areas more exposed to the Sun.
The writer is former senior scientist of Central Pollution Control Board based in Kolkata and can be reached at 919432370163 & 916290099509 or [email protected]