The wildfires in the Amazonian region have been raging for three weeks and became the spotlight of Macron's environment agenda during the weekend’s G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz.
"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days!" Macron said in one of his tweets ahead of the G7 gathering.
The French president has also intensified his criticism of environmental policies of his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, and threatened to block the long-awaited EU-Mercosur free trade deal.
Macron's statements prompted the Bolsonaro administration to defend itself. The Brazilian president, attacked also by the Left and the Greens, sent in the army to fight against fires and rejected the G7 offer to help with reforestation unless Macron apologizes for his harsh rhetoric.
Scale of Problem
Apart from persisting in Macron's G7 statements, the Amazon fires also became the top priority among environmental lobbies worldwide, which quickly inflated the issue into the state of panic. Hundreds of crowd-funding websites have sprouted up with photos and videos — some of them featuring old fires or flames that are not even in South America.
Meanwhile, experts calculated that for the surface of the Amazon forest, which is nearly as big as all of Europe, the number of fires detected is not that appallingly big. There are fewer fires per square mile in the Amazon this summer than there are in France. However, France is facing an additional challenge in the form of firefighters' discontent.
In July, several trade unions of French firefighters announced a national strike set to last until the end of August. The firefighters called for salary re-evaluation and comprehensive rescue service reform. They had asked to be made exempt from non-urgent calls.
Nor are this year's fires a record for Brazil. Global Forest Watch indicates that deforestation (including by fire) decreased a little under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but dramatically spiked by 250 percent under President Dilma Roussef, Bolsonaro’s predecessor, most notably in 2015 and 2016.
According to NASA-funded globalfiredata.org, as of August 23, there was a total of 105,508 fires throughout the Amazon, compared to 112,773 fires registered on the same day in 2016. In 2005, there were 250,018 wildfires in late August, double the projection at the same date for 2019.
"The panic induced by the prophet of doom Greta Thunberg and other Green activists has reached an absolute peak, when dear Greta said ‘I want you to panic’ and ‘we only have 18 months to save the planet’. This panic is ridiculous and will soon fall down like a house of cards," Samuele Furfari, a longtime senior official at the European Commission, professor at ULB university in Brussels and specialist in fossil fuels, said.
While the Amazon fires are, undoubtedly, worrying, flames that are raging uncontrolled in Central Africa, are much more appalling, the expert said.
"But of course Monsieur Macron could not mention it in Biarritz, since he had invited some African heads of state to the G7 to speak about ‘inequalities’. His political agenda fitted perfectly, though, with an attack on Brazil," Furfari said.
Developed Nations are Also Responsible
While developed countries blame developing nations for failing to demonstrate sufficient commitment to the environment protection, they have also made some "hasty and wrong" decisions, Furfari continued.
"The promotion of biofuels is one of these ideas. You can indeed produce fuel from plants. It is not very efficient since you need one litre of fuel to produce 1.5 litre of biofuel, but OK. The problem is that a country such as Brazil has answered this new market, politically created, by destroying the forest, to grow crops of plants used to make biofuel, such as corn or sugar cane," Furfari said.
However, according to him, the Green activists did more bad than good, "accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon."
"The Amazon and its biodiversity deserve better than simplistic ideas by politicians who don’t have a clue about what they say and tweet," Furfari said.
For example, Germany sees its domestic agricultural land decreasing by nearly 60 hectares, or 148 acres, per year, but its demand for biofuels and organic agricultural products is expanding, Stephan Protschka, an agricultural policy spokesman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) parliamentary group in the German parliament, said.
"New agricultural land will have to be developed to meet our import needs. This inevitably involves the clearing of rain forest such as the Amazon, and the destruction of biodiversity. That is the truth," Protschka said.
The German federal government's goal to increase the share of organic farming to 20 percent by 2030 will require expanding the world's agricultural area by about 245,000 hectares, with the Amazon being one of the possible targets, the expert concluded.
Rainforest as Lungs
Amazon rainforests are often called lungs of the Earth, but experts and scientists specializing in forestry suggest that this is not exactly true.
"What most people don’t understand is that a primal forest, also called natural forest or rain forest, which is not exploited at all, does not have a positive or a negative influence on the oxygen production. The forest is in perfect balance," Anders Hildeman, an expert at the SCA research and forestry center in Sundsvall, Sweden said in comments.
Plants in the untouched rain forest grow, die and rot emitting as much CO2 as oxygen, the expert explained.
"It [the Amazon rain forest] does not produce 20% of our oxygen; this is ludicrous to believe it. It is not ‘the lung of the planet'," Hildeman said.
The importance of the rain forest lies primarily in formation of clouds and rain and in their rich biodiversity, which must be preserved, the expert recalled, while debunking the "romantic and false" idea that no trees should be cut.
"The only forests, which are positive for the CO2 reduction and oxygen emission, are the ‘cultivated forests’ as we have them in Europe or North America. When trees are mature, they are cut and transformed into construction timber, furniture, paper and board, hygiene products such as diapers, and pellets for the fire. So our European forests emit oxygen, but very little CO2, since humans use the solid carbon and don’t let the trees decay and rot," Hildeman said.
At the same time, the importance of the Amazon rainforest cannot be underestimated.
"The Amazon Rain Forest is globally important in cooling the planet by a) absorbing atmospheric CO2 (a greenhouse gas) in photosynthesis and b) releasing water vapour in evapotranspiration (you can see this process in mist formation over the forest)," professor Terry Callaghan, the winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts in counteracting man-made climate change, said.
According to Callaghan, the ongoing fires could decrease the cooling effect of the forest, lead to loss of biodiversity. They could also result in the worse air quality in the region and indigenous people losing their land.
The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.