The Amazon Rainforest is Burning, But Is That Good or Bad?

In the heart of this dilemma is Brazilian President Bolsonaro, self-nicknamed Captain Chainsaw.

By Savanna Rayer
Staff Writer

Do you know who Captain Chainsaw is? The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, gave himself this nickname as a result of his role in the current fires burning in the Amazon rainforest. This nickname has helped to call into question what the possible motives might be for his support of allowing fires to rage in the Amazon rainforest since late August.

The fire that has been burning for months. Image Credit: Mashable

The Amazon rainforest is in South America, with about 60% of it located in Brazil and the rest spanning into eight other countries, including Peru, Ecuador and Guyana. In total, the rainforest is about 2.1 million square miles. Inside this large piece of land holds many indigenous species and people who use the land for survival.

The fires are alarming to those who depend on the land because typically the Amazon rainforest would not have naturally occurring wildfires due to its high moisture level. Officials believe the fires were deliberately started but say that it’s difficult to determine what or who may have started them and why.

Some speculate that President Bolsonaro started the fires so he could clear land for cattle. Bolsonaro denies that claim and instead believes that nongovernmental organizations are responsible, trying to make him look bad. Other theories suggest that global corporations like McDonalds and Walmart are involved.

More locally, Anoka-Ramsey students say they are mostly unaware of the Amazon rainforest fires. Nearly 2/3 of students polled recently said that they consume current events media often, but rarely see updates about the ongoing fires. ARCC geography instructor Amy Lilienfeld helped to clarify the reality of the fires, stating that the fires are “deliberate burning associated with slash-and-burn agriculture,” which is a process during which vegetation is cleared out by fire and then the layer of ash creates a quality fertilizer for crops.

Indigenous people searching for supplies to help their village. Image Credit: The Independent

Lilienfeld explained that this method is commonly used in Mexico and Central America, so it wouldn’t be unusual for this to be a possibility in Brazil and that it might not be as harmful as others suggest because “indigenous people need to grow food!”

Regardless of the initial reason for the fires, there is not a clear way to stop the fires in Brazil. Bolsonaro says he won’t accept money or resources from other countries because Brazil is “not to be colonized,” even though the G7 offered $20 million in aid. With Bolsonaro’s pride and the fire burning at the rate of about a football field per minute, time is of the essence.

Lilienfeld says that if the fires continue to burn, it probably won’t affect the oxygen in the atmosphere because the rainforest acts as a CO2 sink, meaning that organisms take carbon dioxide from the air to store for photosynthesis and when the plant dies, the carbon dioxide goes into the soil. However, the smoke from the fires could cause immense air pollution, which is already damaging life in the area. According to Lilienfeld, the biggest threat to the Amazon Rainforest is climate change.

Even with all this information, it’s difficult to know what to conclude about the fires burning in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Perhaps the fires will dissipate soon and maybe even result in some positive benefits for the area.