By now, you have probably witnessed the blazes in the Amazon rainforest. Why is this fire important to the world? It is a fitting question to ask because the Amazon plays a major role in many of the processes that make our planet habitable: water cycles, weather patterns, it’s role in our medicines and skincare, and the exchange of carbon dioxide. As an urban planner, my profession deals with developing plans and programs for the use of land. People like me evaluate the environmental impacts of proposed development not just on a local level but also on a macro scale.
Here’s why the fires in the Amazon rainforest matter. First, there are still rare uncontacted native people in the Amazon who still live in wooden huts with mud floors. In 2018, TWENTY EIGHTEEN, rare footage was captured of a tribe with no known contact with the outside world was witnessed on TV. Many of these tribes are seeing their homes devastated by what they’re calling ‘colonialism’ and foreign diseases. The US has had a presence in South America for quite some time assisting with the “prevention, care and treatment” with these diseases. The words contained inside the quotation marks are important for a greater level of understanding the role the US plays in efforts in the broader area. There has been an uptick in the global conversation on how to best relieve the country of prolonged economic stagnation, develop the land and integrate the isolated tribes. The catastrophic fires matter to the current Brazilian president, who campaigned on promises to bring development to the Amazon, with the centerpiece being hydroelectric dams that would turn the Amazon’s gushing rivers into “cheap and reliable energy” to bring valuable services to other parts of Brazil. Imposing economic development on vulnerable populations (including tribes in the Amazon) is never a good thing.
It is equally important to know that burning naturally occurs in the dry season and fires are not uncommon, but in this region with some of the wettest land in the world it rarely sees massive fires. Under Brazil’s current administration, fires in the region are up a staggering 77% according to Reuters. It is hard to accept that this is a ‘natural act of God.’ Consumerism by America (I too am guilty) and China and other emerging countries across the globe places demand on global resources and globally undeveloped land. Many scientist and economist blame consumerism on the desire to develop in places not suitable for development.
Whether you live in the US or abroad, a permitting process from local agencies can take months or even years to obtain approval to remove forest stand (fancy words for a whole lot of trees). Why? Because planners, study and evaluate the impacts of proposed development and who will be affected. Media outlets are also inserting the word, ‘deforestation.’ Deforestation is a fancy word that simply means ‘the clearing or removal of rainforest that is converted into non-forest use.’ The clearing of the rainforest would certainly help the economic woes the country is facing. There is no doubt that it would provide construction jobs, housing stock, infrastructure tons of jobs for the next generation, but at the expense of whom? Is there not a better way?
In elementary school (I am product of The Eighties) we were learning the importance of saving the rainforest in the Amazon. Schools across the United States passed out “The Weekly Reader” on Friday afternoons published in part by National Geographic to drum up interest in Science. As a child it was crystal clear on the need to ‘save the rainforest’. Trees in the Amazon help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen. Fewer trees equal more of the gas that experts believe is a source of global warming.
The Amazon is also a centerpiece of the global health equity conversation. The Amazon currently produces up to 25% of the plants used in modern medicines for toothaches, leukemia, HIV, cardiac and psychiatric drugs, and skincare regimens (think of that good beat you put on before you go to the club).
Disturbing sensitive environmental features in the Amazon will have a global impact that is irreversible. There are just some places that are not suitable for development (e.g. think of the FL Everglades or the neighborhood in your city that ALWAYS floods when it rains). Science has been telling us for the last 30 years that the more severe and frequent hurricanes that the US is experiencing are a direct result of environmental disturbance (fancy words for removing the rainforest) in the Amazon. Again, this impacts the US with many of our populations living near coastlines, and in major US cities near water (NOLA, Houston, FL, the Carolinas, Chesapeake, all of New England).
As an urban planning professional, I wanted you to know that the LUNGS OF THE WORLD are burning and wanted to put pen to paper in plain language on why it is important that we care.