By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer
As fires continue to rage thousands of miles away in the Amazon rain forest, the environmental costs will likely be felt around the globe.
For weeks, fires in the Amazon have torched hundreds of square miles— the majority of them were caused by farmers clearing land for crops or livestock, first by cutting down trees and then by burning the area to clear out the remaining vegetation.
Dr. Melinda Coogan, a professor of environmental science at Baylor, described the impact of the fires as a “quadruple-whammy.” Trees that would normally absorb carbon dioxide and release cooling moisture are now burning, spewing pollutants into the air. Coogan said environmental issues like the Amazon fires should concern even those thousands of miles away from the blaze since the cost of climate change is shared by everyone.
“We tend to look at things isolated and in reality they’re all interconnected,” Coogan said. “We’ve already seen the hottest July ever, globally. As we increase temperatures here, that impacts [you] if you’re a rancher or farmer— it impacts your livelihood. People here in the city— we don’t seem to think much about it because we go into our air conditioning, but our bills increase.”
Julie King, a professor of environmental law at Baylor, said the fires are part of a larger pattern of environmental damage caused by deforestation.
“Land use changes significantly impact climate change,” King said. “This is something that impacts everyone on the globe— it affects all people.”
In addition to climate change, King mentioned the loss of biodiversity as another worrying consequence of the fires, comparing the Amazon’s deforestation to the tragedy of the commons.
“We talk about these areas sort of as global commons areas,” King said. “Biodiversity is really increasingly thought of as one of the resources that we all share… species don’t know any political boundaries.”
The number of fires so far in 2019 is up 79% over last year’s total at the same point. Coogan said that as the world approaches the “tipping point” for preventing a widespread climate crisis, the most aggravating problem isn’t the fires themselves, but a lack of action in response.
“Scientists are indicating that we have about 11 years to drastically turn things around— that was before all this burning started. This is going to accelerate that… I see that getting a little bit shorter,” Coogan said. “I wish it would stop… there are solutions— I think that’s the thing that frustrates me.”