My Lungs Are Burning, And So Are Yours: The Suffocating Effects of Deforestation

Deforestation is a word all environmental groups tend to use, but one simple word can’t seem to capture the devastating effects of the process. It is commonly associated with the idea of logging and timber trade. However, deforestation isn’t just cutting down trees and selling them; it’s burning down homes and changing the very world as we know it. The recent fires in the Amazon rainforest are a perfect example of how deforestation is devastating and suffocating our planet. 


The Amazon rainforest is one of the most important natural environments on Earth, yet it is among one of the most commonly deforested locations on the planet. It houses countless species, many of which are endangered. The Amazon is also home to nearly 30 million people, with 350 indigenous and ethnic groups.  One of its most common nicknames is “the lungs of the planet” due to the amount of oxygen that the rainforest produces. Some sources have said it produces up to 20 percent, but after fact-checking, the Amazon likely produces closer to 6 percent of the world's overall oxygen.  


Aside from being a home for countless species and peoples and a major producer of oxygen, the Amazon currently serves as one of the world's largest “sink” for carbon dioxide emissions. A “sink” is simply a natural environment that absorbs and stores carbon from being released into the atmosphere. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Amazon rainforests “contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon.” Deforestation releases this stored carbon back into the atmosphere, worsening the greenhouse effect responsible for much of the changing climate that we see today. 


While logging (which is often done illegally) still plays a major part in deforestation, agriculture is another key player in the process. Brazil is home to nearly 60 percent of the Amazon, and as Brazil’s population grew, the Amazon shrank. From 1970 to 2016, forest cover in Brazil has decreased by nearly 19 percent. Much of this decrease is due to the clearing of land for farming and ranching, through a process known as slash and burn agriculture. Farmers clear a piece of land through intentional fires that often get out of control and can reach an enormous scale which we are seeing now as 1,330 acres have been lost since January. 


While Brazil has strived to enact some conservation practices, many have not been successful due to the lack of funding and support from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticized for his desire to develop the Amazon through agribusiness and natural resource extraction. Fires in Brazil have increased by 84 percent this year since Bolsonaro took office. 


Without government support and new agricultural practices, the Amazon could reach a new level of degradation which would be impossible to reverse. Deforestation can have lasting effects on the changing climate and vice versa; if such devastation continues, much of the lavish Amazon rainforest could begin to look more like an African savanna

Deforestation isn’t limited to the Amazon, and climate change isn't caused by deforestation alone. Our whole world is seeing irreversible effects from things rooted in our everyday lives: economics, politics, and lifestyle choices. Until we address the issues in these sectors, the world around us will simply continue to burn down.