The Burning Truth: Why the Amazon fire- and others like it- should be a larger concern to our planet

The data above shows the carbon monoxide levels present in the air over the Amazon. Between July and August of 2019 the carbon monoxide levels increased exponentially in the area, with over 100,00 fires.

The data above shows the carbon monoxide levels present in the air over the Amazon. Between July and August of 2019 the carbon monoxide levels increased exponentially in the area, with over 100,00 fires.

Nick Sanchez-Zarkos, Writer

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Alaska. Amazon. California. Queensland. As fires continue to burn around the globe and our current climate crisis becomes increasingly concerning, we are forced to look towards the burning truth behind these fires and what they mean.

The Amazon

In mid-August, the world was rocked by the news that the Amazon rainforest was in flames. Social media and news outlets shared haunting images of countless acres of burning land and stories of tribes in the Amazon having to flee. 

One of the direct causes of the fires in the Amazon is the long drought season that much of the forest has experienced. With an increase in temperatures and the number of fires present in parts of Brazil, smoke levels have often become hazardous to the people of neighboring countries. Dan Nepstad, an ecologist who has studied the Amazon for over three decades, told NPR that this year alone has had more fires than the past decade. He explained that a large amount of smoke in the region is created due to a large number of trees in the ecosystem and that its energy puts the smoke high into the atmosphere. 

In 2019 alone, Brazil has experienced over 80,000 fires, which is almost an 80 percent increase from the year before, according to the National Institute for Space Research. Brazil’s own Institute for Research has warned the media that the rainforest has begun on a path that will eventually lead to the rainforest being unable to sustain itself. James Temple in the MIT Technology Review reported anywhere from 17 to 25 percent of the Amazon has already been deforested by humanity. All of these statistics point towards one thing in particular. The Amazon is losing time. 

The data above shows the carbon monoxide levels present in the air over the Amazon. Between July and August of 2019 the carbon monoxide levels increased exponentially in the area, with over 100,00 fires

 

Alaska

Alaska just experienced the hottest summer in the state’s history. Since the beginning of 2000, the average fires in the state have almost doubled since those 20 years earlier. From rivers and streams becoming too hot for salmon and glaciers losing shape by almost inches at a time, the people of Alaska can expect to be among the first to witness the extreme effects of climate change.

Anchorage, Alaska has received the brunt of these changes, as large ongoing fires in the area have prompted officials there to establish a Climate Action plan for the spring. Temperatures there reached 90 degrees in July, a higher temperature than Florida’s Key West.

Despite the effect the high temperatures have on the glaciers and streams, climate change is also evident through ocean life. Environmental officials have many concerns that the rising temperatures will affect migration patterns for sea animals. The changing heat patterns in the ocean have the capability of changing the timing of plankton blooms, which could ultimately change an entire system of food chains. Melting glaciers add water that encroaches on both humans and wildlife living on the coasts of surrounding areas. Whale migrations are also predicted to be altered if the temperatures continue to rise, which could result in the misdirection of dozens of animal species.

Recent fires in Alaska, besides wreaking havoc on the homes of both wildlife and citizens, have also released an extreme amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The carbon is released from the burning trees, but the fires also cause the release of large amounts of carbon trapped in the soil and permafrost. UCUSA, a non profit union of scientists and citizens reported that since the beginning of 2019, wildfires in Alaska have released nearly triple the capacity of harmful gasses that are emitted through fossil fuels. 

These fires and changes in climate will continue to change both lives on land and life on the water. For Alaska and the rest of the world, what we do to limit these effects can prevent more fires and loss of wildlife and ultimately make the world a better place to live in for future generations.

UAF Smoke

UAF SMOKE forecast for smoke and PM2.5 levels over Alaska. The image shows the strength of the smoke and lack of air quality. The pink, purple,  and red areas are the most harmful to children and adults.

 

Conclusion

Despite the media reaction to the extensive damage done by fires, little progress has been made in relief efforts. Fires continue to be a problem for locations all over the world and affect countless lives. As we experience more climate change related outcomes these concerns are beginning to be addressed. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist expressed the dire importance of climate change to the United Nations in a fiery and emotional speech. She has also created a worldwide “Fridays for Future” event in which students have had the opportunity to express their concerns. Also, recent Democratic debates have centered on present and future generations’ concerns regarding climate change. As the evidence of climate change becomes more apparent in the world around us, it is clear that the term “climate change” suggests there is an ability to change the damage that has already been done. The burning truth behind the situation our world is in could only be described as a climate catastrophe. Without circumstance becoming increasingly more alarming, it is our responsibility to take an active role in the solution. It is our duty to learn, discuss, and act to push back against our climate catastrophe before the cost becomes irreversible. 

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