Articles

The Wrong Amazon Is Burning


Did you know that the Amazon rainforest actually
creates its own weather system? Yeah, it’s really interesting actually. See, trees suck
up water from the ground for photosynthesis, you probably already knew that, but they only
use a fraction of the water. The rest is released into the air through the leaves, flowers and
stems in a process called transpiration. Something like 90% of the water pulled from the ground
end up in the air. And because there are so many trees in the Amazon, this process essentially
creates a river in the sky, which kinda mirrors the actual Amazon river itself, but flowing
backward deeper into the interior of South America. Amazingly, the Amazon rainforest
actually creates approximately half of its own rainfall by recycling moisture from the
Atlantic ocean 5 to 6 times. The water just keeps going up and down, up and down, up and
down deeper and deeper into the western part of South America, into the Andes. Without that sky river, the Amazon rainforest
ecosystem will collapse. I mean, obviously, trees, like every living thing on this godforsaken
planet, need water to survive. And trees in the interior part of the rainforest rely on
that sky river for water. So if enough trees on the outskirts of Amazon are cut down, there
will be less water transported deeper into the rainforest, killing even more trees, which
led to even less water transported to the interior, and so on and so on until the collapse
begins. Now, you might wonder how the Amazon rainforest
came to be in the first place if it requires such an intricately dependent system. Well,
the short answer is that millions of years ago, during the Eocene epoch, the earth was
about 5-8 degrees warmer than it is today. In other words, it was really hot. There was
no ice at the higher latitudes, and tropical rainforests stretched from pole to pole. Then,
as the earth entered an ice age, the rainforests receded to the equator. Other ecosystems that
couldn’t maintain its own climate collapsed. The Amazon rainforest, on the other hand,
could maintain its own climate system. Sidenote, if your first instinct after hearing
that is to go “see! Earth has been much warmer before! Climate change is not going
to be bad! I mean there were rainforests on the poles!”, then kindly fuck off. Yes,
the earth has been much, much warmer a long ass time ago, but back then, the temperature
rose over millions of years, which allowed nature to evolve and adapt to the new environment.
What we’re doing today is closer to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs by changing
the environment on a human time-scale, leaving no room for life to adapt to the new environment.
Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we kinda need our current climate to stay
stable to grow food and maintain civilization and shit. So if Amazon’s climate system is disrupted,
if that sky river system is gone, the whole ecosystem will collapse and, more importantly,
won’t grow back. South America will gradually be drier and drier, which will lead to more
forest fires, which will then accelerate the whole process all over again. The climate
in the interior of South America will be closer to that of the Serengeti plains of East Africa,
which lies on the same longitude as the rainforest. It will be a dry savannah, closer to a desert
even. And here’s the depressing part. Scientists
estimate the collapse will begin when around 20-25% of Amazon is deforested. And once the
collapse starts, it cannot be stopped, even if deforestation is completely halted. Now,
would you like to guess how much of the rainforest has been deforested? Maybe 1%? 2%? 10%? 15%?
Well, more like 19.7%…in 2018. I’m pretty sure the number has gone up by now. You don’t
have to be good at math to see that 19.7% is awfully close to 20%. So we’re inching
closer and closer to the collapse of the Amazon rainforest. If not stopped, the collapse will
probably take decades to complete, but it will be catastrophic for not only South America,
but also the whole world. See, the Amazon rainforest affects the weather
pattern in the whole continent of America, both north and south. It transports water
throughout the whole continent, so without it, there will be less rainfall in some regions,
while other regions will experience more floodings. Unstable weather patterns will disrupt food
production on the whole continent. And because the United States is one of the leading food
producers in the world, this disruption will ripple everywhere else and cause food shortages.
Of course, this will also create food shortages in the Americas too, which is kinda ironic
considering Amazon deforestation is done for food production in the first place. And in
the worst-case scenario, the whole Amazon basin and a big chunk of South America turns
into a dry, desert-like Serengeti, which is not conducive for agriculture, to say the
least. But there’s another way the Amazon rainforest
affects the rest of the world. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world is goddamn
burning down right now. Y’know, climate change and shit. Well, the Amazon rainforest
plays a central role in mitigating climate change because it is one of the largest carbon
sinks in the world. But if deforestation continues, that will change. As you probably know, trees use CO2 to do
their photosynthesis thing. They turn CO2 and water into sugars by using the energy
from the sun, which is kinda crazy if you think about it. I mean a big ass tree was
nothing but gas and water before it is formed into a gigantic mesh of cellulose. Anyways,
so trees turn CO2 into more trees, but it’s a little bit more complicated than just that.
While trees do sequester CO2, those same trees will eventually die. Normally when they die,
they decay back into CO2, either because they’re digested by micro-organisms or because they’re
burned by natural forest fires. The amount of CO2 absorbed by forests depends on how
many new trees can grow. So if, let’s say hypothetically, an advanced
species of primate were to burn parts of it and don’t let the rainforest grow back,
the forest actually turns into a CO2 emitter. What’s worse, if the whole ecosystem collapsed,
all of those trees will turn back into CO2, making climate change much worse. The trees
don’t have to be burned either, the natural decay process will do the trick just fine. But more than that, turning rainforests into
agricultural land degrades the soil. This is important because 1) we need healthy soil
to grow crops and 2) soil is also a carbon sink. Now, not going to lie, I really don’t
understand how soil actually absorbs CO2, but it does. And if the soil is degraded then
it will instead release stored CO2, on top of not absorbing newly released carbon dioxide. And again, if, let’s say hypothetically,
an advanced species of primate were to cut down large swathes of the Amazon rainforest
and turning them into farmland, a whole bunch of CO2 stored in the soil will be released.
Hypothetically, this will make combating climate change a huge nightmare. Thank god it’s
only hypothetical, right? Oh wait. No yeah, it’s really happening. You’ve
probably seen the news, right? They’re burning down the goddamn Amazon rainforest so fucking
cows can eat. The rainforest is being slashed and burned to make way for soy farms and cattle
pastures. And actually, these soyboys and cowboys have been incentivized by the Brazilian
government to clear the forests. See, while they could get fined if they were caught burning
a forested area, through some weird-ass loopholes, they can actually sell back the same land
to the government with high margin. Essentially, the government is subsidizing deforestation,
which is why deforestation rate was really really high in the mid-2000s. But then, when the left-ish government held
power, deforestation was essentially controlled. I mean it was still going on, but not at the
absurdly high rate like it was in the mid-2000s. They were able to set up an independent environmental
protection agency, one that was actually capable of controlling deforestation. But you know what happened. Deforestation
has grown back since that proto-fascist took over. Bolsonaro cut funding for Brazil’s
environment protection agency, closed down its bases and transferred control of the agency
to the agribusiness sector. Now they are being controlled by people whose interests are at
odds with the agency’s purpose. He is dismantling the agency, successfully I might add, like
so many other right-wing leaders all over the world. And as a result, there have been 77-80%(?)
increase in the number of forest fires month by month compared to last year. But, more
than just a single year increase in deforestation, the bigger problem is that without that agency,
without someone to stop it, the deforestation rate will go up again like it was in the mid-2000s.
So more and more of the forest will be burned, and we’ll be inching closer and closer to
the tipping point of the Amazon ecosystem collapse. And even more fucked up, in many cases, the
forest fires threaten the livelihood of indigenous people already living there. Their land is
being invaded by illegal loggers and miners, and the forest where they live is being burned
to the ground to make way for pastures and farms. And this is not some unintentional
consequence of an extractive economic system. This is not just because indigenous people
occupy areas with valuable land, minerals, and wood. This is a settler-colonial project
designed to assimilate indigenous people into what Bolsonaro perceived to be the “real”
Brazilian culture. We’ve seen this all over the world before,
in places where colonialism plays a driving force in the culture. For example, in Canada,
indigenous children were kidnapped and their culture is denied from them. I’d imagine
Bolsonaro would do something similar, where he would remove indigenous people from their
ancestral land, and assimilate them into what he perceived to be the “real”, dominant
Brazilian culture. This process has already started and opening up indigenous land to
capital is the beginning point. He dismantled the agency tasked with demarcating indigenous
land, essentially facilitating land grab by capital. By taking their land and burning
their homes, the state forces indigenous people to move somewhere else, where their connection
to their own culture can be diminished, while also assimilating and turning them into labor
capital can exploit. And all of this for fucking beef. The land
was made into pastures, and the soy was for cows. All of this to satisfy the demand of
the market. We’re forfeiting the future of human civilization because rich assholes
eat too much beef. Oh that’s right, it’s not the poor who
eats beef. It’s the middle-class people in China, EU, Russia and UAE that eat Brazilian
beef. I’ve seen leftists defending people eating beef, saying that poor people outside
of western countries have a right to eat beef. Well, guess what? It’s not poor people that
are eating beef. No, beef is more expensive than other food items all over the world,
and poor people, no matter where they are, cannot afford to eat beef regularly. Instead,
they will be the victim of climate change because everyone else is eating beef, even
though poor people are the least responsible for it. Said leftists blame capitalism on the destruction
of the Amazon, which is a fair point and I’ll get to it in a moment, but the modern livestock
industry cannot be sustainable under any system, capitalist or otherwise. The scale at which
humans are producing beef is just straight up unsustainable. There’s no way we can
have billions of people eat beef every day, or hell even every other day, without destroying
the environment. The modern livestock industry produces about 14% of all CO2 emissions, at
about 7 Gigatons of CO2 per year, and is the driving force behind land-use CO2 emissions
through deforestation and land degradation. If humanity were to survive, this cannot go
on. But of course, the root cause of the problem
is indeed capitalism. In a world where profit is god, processes that maximize it will always
be prioritized over long-term sustainability, or hell even human rights, just look at the
indigenous people of Amazon. The invisible hand of the market dictates that beef is highly
valuable right now, and so even if the supply doesn’t come from Brazil, it will just come
from other places and deforestation will continue there. And it’s not solely a beef or a Brazil
problem either, just look at what is happening in Indonesia with palm oil. Millions of acres
of forest are being cleared to make way for palm plantations, and is the main reason why
Indonesia’s CO2 emissions are ridiculously high. Matter of fact, Indonesia’s CO2 emissions
from land-use are more than other sources combined. Okay sidenote, after recording this whole
video I realized I forgot to explain what land-use emissions are. So uh, let me just
put it here, yeah? So land-use emissions are greenhouse gasses
emissions brought about by how humans have changed the land itself, both in terms of
what’s growing on top of the land, and the chemical and physical components of the land.
For example, turning a forested area into farmland usually involves cutting down or
burning trees, which emits CO2, which counts as land-use emissions. But agriculture also
changes how the land itself is ordered, by creating irrigation systems for example, and
the chemical make up of the soil by adding things like fertilizer. These things might
degrade the soil, which turn the soil into greenhouse gasses emitter, which also counts
as land-use emissions. And, because of how important this really
is, let me reiterate this again: this is not only a Brazilian or an Indonesian or a beef
or a palm oil problem. Countries all over the world, especially the so-called developing
countries, are driven to destroy the environment by the globalized financial capital. Here’s
an interesting fact. All deforestation, globally, occurs within 5 km of a road or waterway.
It should be pretty obvious why, right? Before clearing a forest, infrastructures need to
be built to move equipment and personnel. People can’t just teleport to the middle
of a forest and start chopping trees. These infrastructures are usually funded using
loans from the World Bank. Last year alone, it committed $3 billion to the transport sector.
Obviously, the road itself is not the point of the loan, but rather, it is built as a
means to extract and exploit natural resources in an area. After an area is cleared, then
the extractive process can begin and raw materials can then be sold to the international market. But there’s a problem with this. Well I
mean more than the destruction of the environment. This whole process actually traps developing
nations into more and more debt. See, the return of investment from that natural resources
extraction might, and will usually, be lower than expected. This is because as more and
more natural resources are extracted, their supply increases and drives down their prices
This is fanfuckingtastic for developed countries because now raw materials can be bought for
really cheaply and they can turn that into more expensive value-added goods. Not so much
for developing countries though, who now can’t generate enough money to pay back the debts
because raw materials are getting cheaper and cheaper. Oh and by the way, that value-added
goods? They’re sold back to developing countries, extracting even more money from us. And so, to pay back that debt, developing
countries need to keep expanding their rate of natural resource extraction, which requires
more infrastructures, which requires more foreign investment, which means more debt,
which means clearing more forests. And on and on the cycle continues. And guess what?
We’re losing this battle against deforestation. In recent years, the rate of deforestation
has only accelerated in almost all developing countries. Without these forests, we have
no chance of mitigating climate change. The labor side of things isn’t much better
either. Rural workers are moving to the cities because their labor is not in demand anymore
due to agricultural modernization and the increasing price of land, which prevents poor
rural people from setting up farms. This increase in labor supply drives down wages across the
board, both in the cities and rural areas, increasing poverty literally everywhere, but
it’s lining the pocket of the rich capitalists with so, so much cash. But there’s yet another side to this, one
where a feedback loop drives the rate of destruction of nature. See, because people need to, y’know,
eat, an increasing number of people in cities means an increasing demand for food. This
translates to more forests being cleared for farming. But more people in the cities also
increases sprawling. Farmlands are being developed into suburban housing, so more land on the
periphery is needed for farming and thus more forests are cleared. This drives people out
of the rural area and into the cities, increasing their population. So now more food is needed
and so on and so on. And let me reiterate this for the third time:
this is happening everywhere, especially in developing countries. The narrative is that
developing countries need to grow the economy at all costs to increase the people’s standards
of living or something like that. This, as the neoliberal narrative dictates, needs to
be done by leveraging comparative advantage, which usually means extracting and exploiting
the country’s natural resources as much as possible. But as I have said earlier, this
just entraps developing countries into more and more debt. I, on the other hand, think increasing people’s
standards of living can be done without environmentally destructive processes. I mean look at Cuba,
where standards of living are high, but with low environmental impact. Now, it can be argued,
and I think this is true, that their low environmental impact is due to the US blockade, but even
then, it’s more impressive that they can establish high standards of living while being
cut off from the international market. I’ll probably talk more about this in a future
video so I’ll spare the details for now. So what can be done for the Amazon rainforest?
Well, notice that most of the time, the reason rainforests are being cut down is that there’s
an international demand for primary commodities, so stuff like meat, soy, palm oil, ores, and
other minerals. Most of the commodities produced there aren’t being consumed locally, with
most of them being exported to developed countries, and these producers are large corporations,
with many of them being transnational companies. So one way to fix all of this mess is to not
let big companies move into new lands and redistribute the land they already own back
to the local people. The commodities produced should be consumed or utilized locally, which
limits the demand on said commodities. Then, governments need to stop subsidizing the big
agribusiness. Hell, governments should stop subsidizing the extractive sector of the economy
too. In an effort to lower production costs, subsidies allow companies to ignore externalities,
which often includes environmental destruction. Essentially, all of these means we need to
shift our priorities on what commodities we produce, how to produce them and how to distribute
them. Another important thing is to uphold indigenous
people’s rights to their land, not encroach over it and give them the power to self-govern.
Community-based forestry management has been successful in reducing deforestation in places
like Nepal and Indonesia, so replicating that elsewhere will be important. Indigenous farming
practices also tend to be more sustainable because they know exactly how to take care
of the local ecosystem. We should also implement these indigenous practices everywhere else,
along with other sustainable farming practices like permaculture. On top of all of that,
not being a gigantic dick to indigenous people, who have suffered the most from colonialism,
is, y’know, a good thing. They deserve a good life just like everyone else, free from
exploitation and subjugation. The good news is that the indigenous people
in Brazil are fighting back against Bolsonaro. There have been many demonstrations by indigenous
groups against the government’s plan to open up more land and attempts at assimilation.
If you’d like to help them fight the fascist, there are a few charities linked in the description Now, having said all of that, this shit will
keep happening under capitalism. Because even if the land is given back to the local and
indigenous people, as long as capitalism exists, the market will exert its power and try to
get the land back under its influence. There will be some capitalist asshole who’d take
a look at the land and say “hey that’s unproductive!” because it’s not making
them money. And fixing this will never be profitable.
Matter of fact, fixing all of this will be the opposite of profitable. Capitalism requires
endless growth, and to do that, more and more natural resources need to be extracted from
the ground. So the burning of the Amazon rainforest is one of the many manifestations of the problem
with capitalism. It truly boils down to the way we produce, distribute and consume goods,
which happens to be completely unsustainable. I mean, out of 9 planetary boundaries, we’re
already past 2 of them, and those 2, biogeochemical flows and genetic diversity, are strongly
linked to our food production. And we’re inching closer towards another 2 boundaries,
climate change and land-use. To quote the paper that invented the term,
“transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due
to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change
within continental- to planetary-scale systems.” And remember, we’ve crossed 2 of them, and
on track to cross another 2. So we really don’t have much time, but we
do still have some of it. Do whatever you need to do to make this shit better, or at
least try. Go give money to charity, go vote, join climate strikes, write to your representatives,
talk to other people about this, organize your community, radicalize youths, make youtube
videos, make your voice heard, start a revolution, something, anything. Yes, the wrong Amazon
is being destroyed, but it doesn’t mean we can’t still make it right.

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