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Amazon fires: Who will help save the rainforest regarded as ‘the lungs of the world’?

AP, August 28, 2019 2:05PM Kids News

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A NASA Earth Observatory map shows active fire detections in South America including Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Uruguay, northern Argentina and northwestern Colombia, as observed by satellites Terra and Aqua MODIS between August 15-22. Fires are orange, cities and town are white, forest areas are black and grasslands and woodlands are grey. Picture: AFP/NASA media_cameraA NASA Earth Observatory map shows active fire detections in South America including Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Uruguay, northern Argentina and northwestern Colombia, as observed by satellites Terra and Aqua MODIS between August 15-22. Fires are orange, cities and town are white, forest areas are black and grasslands and woodlands are grey. Picture: AFP/NASA

environment

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World leaders have agreed to spend $33 million to save the Amazon, mainly by sending firefighting aircraft to tackle huge fires threatening the world’s biggest rainforest.

The commitment was announced by the presidents of France and Chile after the G7 met in France this week. The G7 is a group of seven of the world’s most powerful countries and includes France, the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.

However, the rescue aid is already in doubt with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejecting the offer amid a personal war of words with French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Mr Bolsonaro accused the French leader of interfering with how he runs his country and said he had called him a liar. The Brazil leader said unless Mr Macron took back those comments, he would not accept the aid. 

The French leader said Mr Bolsonaro’s interpretation was a “mistake”. Mr Macron said the aid money wasn’t just aimed at Brazil, but at nine countries in the vast* Amazon region that also covers parts of eight other countries: Bolivia, ­Colombia, ­Ecuador, French Guiana, ­Guyana, Peru, ­Suriname and ­Venezuela. About 60 per cent of the Amazon region is in Brazil.

The map of South America shows satellite detection of fires burning August 15-22 media_cameraThe map of South America shows satellite detection of fires burning August 15-22

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fires were a world issue as the Amazon played a vital role in fighting climate change by absorbing carbon emissions from the air. 

“Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question,” she said.

“The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find ­common solutions.”

Dramatic Shot of Tropical Rainforest media_cameraThe billions of trees in the Amazon create the rainfall the rainforest needs to maintain itself. Picture: istock

The plan for the Amazon was announced after the G7’s environment talks, which focused on the Amazon fires. The group also agreed to support a reforestation* plan that will be announced in detail at the United Nations in September, but Brazil would have to agree to it as would local communities.

US President Donald Trump did not attend the environment talks, his empty chair visible at the meeting table.

media_cameraA fire burns out of control after spreading onto a farm along a highway in Nova Santa Helena in Brazil, on August 23. Picture: AFP

Mr Macron had made the issue one of the summit’s* priorities, and threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America* unless Mr Bolsonaro takes serious steps to protect the Amazon. Mr Bolsonaro is a climate change sceptic* and has been encouraging mining and ranching (cattle grazing) in Brazil. He has been criticised for not doing enough to help prevent or control the fires.

Amazon Forest: World watches wildfires lash through ‘lungs of the earth’

WHAT IS THE AMAZON?
It’s a tropical rainforest covering about 6 million square kilometres of northern South America, an area similar to Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia combined. It covers about 60 per cent of Brazil and parts of eight other countries.

The Amazon River flows through the rainforest.

There are about 390 billion trees in the rainforest, home to 2.5 million species of insects.

Colorful cute Toucan tropical bird in Brazilian Amazon – blurred background media_cameraThe Amazon is home to incredible plants and animals, including this toucan. Picture: istock

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE AMAZON?
The Amazon is often called the “lungs of the Earth”.

Trees store carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, and the Amazon each year takes in as much as 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

The Amazon’s billions of trees also release water vapour that forms a thick mist over the rainforest canopy. It rises into clouds and produces rain, affecting weather patterns across South America and beyond.

The forest is also home to an estimated 20 per cent of the Earth’s plant species, many of which are found nowhere else.

“With each hectare burned we could be losing a plant or animal species that we didn’t even know about,” said Andre Guimaraes, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.

Around 400-500 indigenous tribes call the Amazon rainforest home. It’s believed about 50 of these tribes have never had contact with the outside world.

Kayapo leader Raoni Metuktire, whose people are from the Amazon, was in France for the G7 meeting to try to convince world leaders to fight to stop the deforestation of the rainforest. Picture: AP media_cameraKayapo leader Raoni Metuktire, whose people are from the Amazon, was in France for the G7 meeting to try to convince world leaders to fight to stop the deforestation of the rainforest. Picture: AP

WHAT IS BURNING?
Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, which monitors* deforestation, has recorded 76,720 wildfires across Brazil this year, which is 85 per cent more than last year. A little over half of those (40,341) have been in the Amazon.

WHAT IS CAUSING THE FIRES?
Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said last week that “it is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans.”

He said fires are mostly started to clear land for logging, farming and ranching.

The institute doesn’t know what area has been burned, but it estimates more than 9000 sq km of Amazon forest was lost this year to August 1.

Since 1970, 800,000 sq km has been cleared, an area as big as New South Wales.

Cattle stand in a field as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Auguest. 25. Picture: AP media_cameraCattle stand in a field as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, August. 25. Picture: AP

WHAT IS ‘THE TIPPING POINT’?
Climate scientist Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist at George Mason University, in the US, have estimated that the “tipping point” for the Amazon is 20 per cent to 25 per cent deforestation.

Once the tipping point is reached, there will not be enough trees to create the rainfall needed by the forest to maintain itself, meaning large areas would become grassland or drier types of forest and there could be resulting droughts across South America and beyond.

It is thought that close to 20 per cent of the Amazon already has been deforested.

GLOSSARY

  • reforestation: replant forest
  • vast: over a huge area
  • summit: meeting
  • Latin America: American countries that were once Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies; includes most of South and Central America
  • sceptic: doesn’t believe something is true
  • monitors: watches and records

EXTRA READING

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Amazing photos of ancient cultures

Kids campaign to save orang-utan habitat

Plant a trillion trees to pause climate change

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What does the Amazon River have to do with this rainforest?
  2. Explain why the Amazon is called the “lungs of the Earth”.
  3. Why was Raoni Metuktire at the G7 in France?
  4. How are most of the fires likely to have started?
  5. What percentage of the Amazon is thought to have been cleared so far?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. The Amazon rainforest
Create an A3 artwork depicting the Amazon Rainforest and why it is referred to as “the lungs of the Earth”.

In your artwork try and represent what the Amazon looks like, its current and future threats and what deforestation would mean to it and the rest of the Earth.

Be as creative as you like and use bright, bold and colourful effects to represent the rainforest. Pastel might be a good medium to experiment with.

Use words if you like but not too many, try and get your point across in your art rather than in words.

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Visual Arts, Science, Geography

2. Extension
Why do you believe the Brazilian president has been reluctant to do more to stop the fires blazing in the Amazon?

Outline the President’s ethical and social responsibilities towards this issue as leader of Brazil which houses 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Ethical capabilities, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalist has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should Brazil’s President be doing more to protect the Amazon? Should the rest of the world be doing more?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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