The Fires in Brazil
I often ask myself, when watching or reading news online. “Is this event real, or has it been manipulated to be sensational?”
Since television producers depend on advertising for their income, the more people watch their programs, the better. And the more sensational the program is, the more people will watch it. Most of the time I just need to accept what I see as true since I don’t know enough about a situation to judge correctly.
But not in the past few weeks!
When news programs depicted the imminent destruction of the Amazon rainforest, I said, “Wait a minute! I know something about that!”
Our family lived for over two decades in and on the edge of that rainforest, and I have traveled extensively in Brazil. So, let me assure you right now, the alarming reports about the imminent destruction of the Amazon rainforest by wildfires are FAKE NEWS.
The Amazon Rainforest is NOT in danger of burning up.
The pictures of fires we see on television and online are NOT taken inside the Amazon rainforest. They are taken much farther south and are simply showing the best way to clear land and prepare it for agriculture—a method that has been practiced for centuries, long before Europeans came to Brazil.
What Europeans and North Americans don’t realize is that Brazil’s vast Amazon jungle rainforest extending out to a nearly a thousand kilometres from the banks of the three-thousand-kilometer-long Amazon river, is utterly unlike any forest in western North America.
Most trees in western North America are softwood, resinous trees, like spruce, pine, fir, cedar, hemlock and tamarack, which catch fire easily. Well over two thousand out-of-control wildfires raged in British Columbia in 2018. Over half of them were caused by lightning strikes. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest burn in western North America every year. The largest one on record is a single fire in British Columbia and Alberta that burned 1,600,000 hectares (four million acres).
The Amazon Rainforest is Fireproof
In stark contrast, the Amazon rainforest is a fireproof forest consisting of gigantic hardwood trees as tall as a ten, fifteen, or even twenty story building. The daily thunderstorms over vast areas of the rainforest produce thousands of lightning strikes, yet never a wildfire. The rainforest is well named. It rains constantly somewhere in that forest every day—an average of fifteen million tons of rainwater every minute, every day, all year long.
No wonder the Amazon rainforest is a soggy, swampy, fireproof hardwood jungle! That is a good thing because it not only produces at least six percent of the oxygen we breathe, it also has a huge, irreplaceable biodiversity of vegetation, animals, and insects. All this rainwater flows out into the Atlantic at a rate of 200,000 cubic metres per SECOND in the dry season, and 300,000 cubic metres per SECOND in the rainy season.
Replacing Trees with Oxygen Producing Food Crops
The Canela village where we lived is not located in the Amazon rainforest, but south of it near a vast, sparsely treed grassy plain. In April or May, the Canelas head out to the margins of creeks and streams where, instead of grass and scrub brush, the soil produces good-sized trees and thick underbrush. Each family spends many weeks preparing three or four hectares to plant their gardens by chopping down these trees. Some are old-growth forest; most are trees that grew up in old gardens that were abandoned after a few years of use. They cut off the branches and slash down the underbrush. They leave the trees to dry for months in the blazing sun during the last part of the six-month-long dry season. Then in August, the men return to set fire to the dry chopped-down bush. The fire burns fiercely but stops dead at the edge of the living forest. During the September rains they plant their gardens—rice, squash, beans and lots of root crops like manioc.
Tens of thousands of backwoods farmers and ranchers follow the practice of replacing trees and undergrowth with oxygen producing agricultural crops all over the part of Brazil that is south of the Amazon rainforest. The population in the vast Amazon rainforest is very low, so slash-and-burn agriculture is not practiced there to any great extent. The largest city on the north bank of the Amazon River is Manaus. On satellite pictures it is a small grey blob in a vast green ocean of trees. The human population is minuscule along the thousands of kilometres of Amazon river and the further thousands of kilometres of tributary rivers in the Amazon rainforest.
Back in the late 1960s, before there was a passable road into the Canela village, Jo and I used to fly to the village in a small single-engine plane. We avoided traveling in August since there was no GPS guidance and the pilot couldn’t see to navigate because of the smoke. And that was fifty years ago! Fire has been the primary way of clearing land for as long as Brazil has had a human population.
This month’s experience with news reporting reminded me to take all sensational news with a grain of salt.
By the way, this Saturday is the 7th of September, Brazil’s Independence Day. Parabens Brasil! Eleven of our family plant to celebrate this weekend with plenty of Brazilian food!