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Amazon rainforest critical is to human life

by Barbados Today
9 min read

“Climate change does not respect borders; it does not respect who you are, rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call ‘global challenges’, which require global solidarity.”- Ban Ki-moon   

It is unbelievable that some political leaders do not understand or are far removed from the realities that globalization brings about in this fast-paced world in which we live. Politicians are elected not only to serve a subset or special group interests. Politicians are elected to design and implement policies that will benefit and enlarge the lives of the people around them.

Globalization is defined by the Business Dictionary as the “worldwide movement towards economic, financial, trade and communications integration”. The same source says globalization implies the opening of local and nationalistic perspectives to a broader outlook of an interconnected and interdependent world, with free transfer of capital, goods, and services across national frontiers.

It bears thought that such a background in the basic concept of globalization is important for the ongoing discourse currently taking place over the burning and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon forest has over 16,000 tree species, 427 mammal species, 1,300 bird species, and over 300 species of reptiles. Additionally, Amazon has over 390 billion individual trees. This is impressive!

Two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is found in Brazil. The Amazon rainforest is located in South America and covers over 2.1 million square miles of land. Peru has 13 per cent and Columbia ten per cent of the Amazon rainforest. Brazil has over 60 per cent of the Amazon. The Amazon has been burning for weeks and the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has been dragging his feet to implement a comprehensive plan to out the literal and figurative fires swirling around.

Bolsonaro has been rather reluctant to accept international and regional help to help control the fire. By all accounts, it appears that the ego of the Brazilian president is standing in his way of accepting help. He rejected $20 million from the G7 to help fight the fires consuming the Amazon after he claimed the French President was rude to him. Things became rather personal and heated as Bolsonaro demanded an apology from the French President Macron.

Bolsonaro’s behaviour can be described as that of a schoolboy after he said his wife was more beautiful than the wife of the French President. Come on, sir. This is so childish for a 64-year-old leader of a country with more than 210 million people. One would think that there are more important things to spend one’s time on such as trying to save the Amazon rainforest.

It was not until much criticism from both regional and international leaders that he decided to send in the army to try to control the fires. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the Brazilian Amazon recorded 30, 901 fires in August, the highest for any month since 2010. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that local economic development takes priority over global concerns such as the burning of the Amazon rainforests. Large landowners who are clearly supporters of Bolsonaro now have a passport for logging and deforestation of the Amazon in the name of development.

He clearly does not get it. If the Amazon rainforest continues to burn and deforestation continues the local economic development which Bolsonaro staunchly defends will not be sustainable. Bolsonaro’s policy is a reversal of previous Brazilian governments that sought to protect the Amazon and the indigenous peoples from development.

The Indigenous People of the Amazon

Bolsonaro seems oblivious to the concerns of the indigenous people of the Amazon. In an article by Dr. Dave Lutz for Amazon Aid Foundation, the number of ingenious people within Brazil is estimated to be at 310,000. Approximately 280, 000 of these individuals reside within areas specifically designated as preserves. These indigenous people are some of the best stewards of the rainforests. They have lived on and know the landscape intimately. Indigenous people are the reservoirs of a wealth of knowledge regarding the flora and fauna of the Amazon. Indigenous people play a critical role in protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem. They are instrumental in the global fight against climate change.

It is clear that forests all across the globe are under constant threat. As the global population increases, there is a corresponding demand for fuel, farming areas, and housing. Deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels and accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, the Brazil Amazon produces 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen. It is very clear that if more attention is not paid to our rainforests, our lives on this planet are in danger.

Amazon’s forests and rivers host a wide variety of species, some of which are endemic, others are endangered and many of which are unknown to humankind. Not many of us are aware that Amazon makes about half of its own rainfall and delivers rainfall as far south as Argentina which supports farming production. A World Bank article on Why the Amazon Biodiversity is Critical for the Globe says, “Every species in this incredibly biodiverse system represents solutions to a set of biological challenges anyone of which has transformative potential and could generate global human benefits.” The article continues to say that the discovery of ACE, (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) inhibitors, inspired by studies of Fer de Lance venom, (a tropical snake found in the Amazon) helped hundreds of millions of people control blood pressure around the world.

This rich wealth of species brims with promise, awaiting discovery. Leaf-cutting ants are an example. These ants collect leaves as mulch for their fungus farms, deliberately avoiding those with natural fungicides. Studying the species they avoid might be a shortcut to identifying new natural fungicides. The knowledge indigenous populations hold is critical in uncovering this potential. Biodiversity is also important locally, constituting a natural capital underpinning many human activities, in particular livelihoods of the world’s poor. For example, the giant catfish is an important local staple.

Amazon biodiversity also plays a critical role as part of global systems, influencing the global carbon cycle and thus climate change, as well as hemispheric hydrological systems, serving as an important anchor for South American climate and rainfall. Recently, Amazon biomass has been changing due to fires. When this happens, other carbohydrates in the trees combine with oxygen and produce CO2 and H20. The burning of the Amazon rainforests contributes to global warming. According to a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), nature is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history. Sir Robert Watson of IPBES says, “It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.”

Unhealthy Nationalism

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and an emerging global power. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brazil is the ninth-largest economy of more than $2.14 trillion dollars. Brazil’s independence was not handed down calmly and this difference of views unquestionably has nurtured a fierce sense of nationalism in this once Portuguese colony. Nationalism is very strong in this South American country which gained its independence in 1822.

Nationalism is an admirable trait. However, some politicians suffer from a fixation regarding nationalism so much so that they do not see the wider geo-political scheme of things. The world today is rather a complex network of nations that are interdependent on others in order to survive and to provide for their citizenry. As a leader, you should not view the world through myopic lens. Those who do will soon fall on the sword of unhealthy nationalism which undoubtedly will negatively impact their country.

What happens in Brazil regarding the burning of the Amazon rainforest affects us all. We owe a debt of gratitude to the indigenous people of the Amazon who are the protectors of the rainforests. Instead of trying to remove them, we should be partnering with them in order to share and learn from each other.

An international bond could be floated, and the funds used to protect the Amazon rainforest and assist with climate change programmes in and around the Amazon. The United Nations could also establish a fire-fighting fund to support countries that share the Amazon. Brazil should be leading South America in a movement to create a culture of multilateralism to address climate change and other issues of global significance. More inter-governmental efforts should be undertaken to incentivize countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Brazil needs to reach out more to her neighbours in safeguarding the Amazon rainforest.

These South American countries need to work in a collaborative way to bring about sustainable development not only in the region but on a global scale. Certainly, we appreciate the help of technology in terms of satellites and Global Positioning System (GPS) systems. However, we must realize that we cannot protect the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest without the assistance of indigenous people. The Amazon rainforest belongs to all of us!

In the words of Barack Obama, there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.



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