They call it the "lungs of the planet."
The vast Amazon rainforest, home to some of the most unusual plant and animal species on the planet, produces 20% of the world's oxygen and is crucial to making Earth a habitable place. But the lush tropical forest that absorbs much of humanity's greenhouse pollution has come under unprecedented assault this year.
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right lawmaker elected president of Brazil in January, has vowed to speed up development of the rainforest, raising serious concerns among environmentalists. Earlier this month, Bolsonaro fired the head of an agency which had revealed some 1,330 square miles of forest had been lost since he took office — up 39% over the same period last year. Within the past 50 years, around one-fifth of the rainforest has been lost to deforestation — and that rate is now only accelerating. Scientists estimate that if we lose another 20% of this lush habitat, a catastrophic series of events known as dieback could occur, where the forest dries out and is more susceptible to fires and droughts.
As it stands, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, which is responsible for monitoring wildfires and deforestation, has reported a record number of wildfires this year. As of Aug. 20, there have been a reported 74,155 fires — an 84% increase over the same period last year — and smoke from fires has turned day into night in São Paulo. Deforestation and mining have both increased.
We've been here before, in the 1980s, and there are still a few things that can be done, though, besides joining climate protests. You can donate to a reputable charity tasked with protecting the rainforest. You can buy paper products that are endorsed by the Rainforest Alliance. You can stop eating beef, since Brazil's cattle industry contributes to deforestation by cutting down forest to convert it to farmland for animals. You can petition businesses not to support agribusiness or materials mined from Brazil that promote deforestation.
In the meantime, here's a look at what the Amazon looks like right now.