Wherever there’s a large number of trees, there’s always the risk of fire, but in the Amazon and in the tropical rainforest of Indonesia, fires are being started deliberately to clear enormous swaths of native trees. What actually happens when a rainforest burns?
The first and most obvious effect of a rainforest fire is the release of carbon dioxide and particulate matter into the air. When rainforests burn, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, some of which had been locked up for centuries. This contributes to global warming. Logging and rainforest clearance cause around 20 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to Greenpeace. Fires create soot, which can lead to smog, animal suffocation and serious problems for local human populations. There are even more serious consequences.
Underneath the rainforest floor lies a complex ecosystem, much of which is based around the massive piles of rotted and decaying vegetation known as peat that have accumulated over millennia. This land is very fertile while trees are present to prevent the topsoil from washing away, making it ideal for creating plantations. However, when a forest burns or is logged, it exposes this layer and dries it out, creating a major fire hazard.
When it’s wet, it doesn’t burn. Once dry, however, this layer burns extremely easily, and because it’s so dense, it takes a lot of effort to put it out. In addition, this destroys the ecosystem and forces out numerous animals, many of which are already endangered. The acid in the ground acts just like vinegar when pickling vegetables so that they last longer, but once the land dries out, the acid can no longer protect it, even if it doesn’t burn, and the land decomposes more rapidly, creating large amounts of methane.
Some argue that replacing the rainforest with plantations minimizes the effect, as they are replacing trees with trees. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Rainforests represent massive diversity, allowing millions of species to thrive. Plantations represent monocultures, such as soybeans, repeating a single species over many square miles of land. This leads to a lack of diversity, further destroying local ecosystems. If a disease affects the monoculture, such as in the case of bananas, even the monoculture is destroyed, leaving nothing.
Burning down rainforests is not a sustainable solution and it causes so many problems to both local populations and to the Earth that it’s almost unbelievable that it’s allowed to continue. It occurs because there is a market for the goods sold by the corporations who fund these operations. In Brazil, the rainforest is chopped down to make way for cattle ranches and soy production, which is used to feed the cattle. If the demand for beef dropped substantially, there would be less pressure on the rainforest. In Indonesia, the rainforests make way for acacia trees and palm oil plantations. Acacia is used to create toilet paper and facial tissues while palm trees produce the palm oil used in commercial food products.
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So what can you do to help prevent the burning down of rainforests? Reducing consumption of products such as soy that come from the plantations and ranches where Amazon rainforests used to be is a good start. A substantial amount of beef used in the United States comes from Brazil, so reducing beef consumption or only sourcing it from local growers can help.
It’s more difficult to know where your tissues came from. However, using a reusable handkerchief may help. Avoiding consumption of palm oil can also help protect the Indonesian rainforests.
You can also help by influencing governments. Sign this petition to ask that Brazil’s president keep her promise to protect the Amazon’s rainforest!Whizzco