The Planet’s Lungs are Still Burning


Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post

John Carter, former U.S. paratrooper, and leader of Brazil's Alliance Brigade, tracking down fires in Matto Grosso, Brazil.

Brendan Guillen, Reporter

While the world has shifted its gaze toward Brexit, the U.S. Democrat Debates and the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, the Amazon Rainforest has continued to burn. The fires are affecting the region’s air quality, which has led to many smoke-induced hospitalizations.

The number of fires decreased by 35% in September, however that still leaves 19,925 outbreaks in the Brazilian portion of the Rainforest. This is partially caused by deforestation efforts, presumably conducted by ranchers who burn portions of the Amazon to gain arable land. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had stated his intentions to allow mining and increased ranching in the region after his election, which has bolstered deforestation efforts. In August, President Bolsonaro declared the use of the Brazilian military, with two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of releasing 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons of water) on the fires supporting them.

The fires are releasing greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrous dioxide, as well as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), a toxic pollutant. PM 2.5 are particles in the air that reduce visibility and make the air appear hazy. These can affect climate and can cause a variety of issues such as heart disease, inflammation, nerve disorders, atherosclerosis, and potentially cancer. The PM 2.5 particulates are the most deadly as they are small enough to be lodged in organs and the bloodstream.

The effects are most visible in the “Arc of Deforestation,” the southern portion of the region, where most of the fires are occurring. An estimated 10,000 children were hospitalized in May and June alone, before the fires received international attention. The cities closest to the fires have seen a 36% increase in child hospitalizations for respiratory diseases. The smoke from the fires has covered millions of square kilometers, stretching across Peru, Bolivia, Columbia and Paraguay.

Despite the numerous organizations that arose to combat the issue, including Earth Alliance, not a lot has been accomplished. Earth Alliance asked for $5 million dollars. However their website has no information besides how to donate and contact information. There is nothing to record the funds gained or which organizations they are going to.

President Bolsonaro had organized the army to combat the flames, but there is no information regarding any progress made. From what is available, they are enforcing environmental policies. In light of this, the organization Earth Alliance has taken the fight to the fires. Business Insider and The Washington Post have reported that Alliance Brigade, created in 2009 by former U.S. paratrooper John Carter, is composed of trained firefighters who race to fires as they are reported. They recently fought fires in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil.

According to Britaldo Silveira Soares Filho, a researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais,”This could be a model. When a firefighter is not someone you can go summon to go there and fight the fire, you have to train someone there.” There is hope that Alliance Brigade will be the first of many groups to prevent the spread of the fires, though only time will tell.