Massive fires, directly linked to ongoing deforestation, have erupted on opposite sides of the globe, resulting in massive releases of greenhouse gases which, in turn, will lead to further global warming and more fires.
First a report from the World Resources Institute:
Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy
More than half the fires are burning on peatlands, which hold some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth.
According to estimates released this week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fire Emissions Database, there have been nearly 100,000 active fire detections in Indonesia so far in 2015, which since September have generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity. Following several recent intense outbreaks of fires—in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014—the country is now on track to experience more fires this year than it did during the 2006 fire season, one of its worst on record.
Global Forest Watch Fires shows that more than half of these fires have occurred on peatland areas, concentrated mainly in South Sumatra, South and Central Kalimantan, and Papua.
The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years. Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion (such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations) leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions. Fires also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), but peat fires may emit up to 10 times more methane than fires occurring on other types of land. Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands.
Next, a video from the Center for International Forestry Research delves into the causes for the Indonesian fires:
Indonesia on Fire
In Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, the peat areas are burning and emitting a toxic smoke causing untold damage to the environment, wildlife and human health.
Most of the fires in Central Kalimantan are blazing in former peatland forests, which have been drained, cleared and burned for oil palm and agriculture, large and small. The dried-out peat ignites easily, burns underground and creeps under the surface.
Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) travel to the heart of the fires to see the situation with their own eyes and measure the extent of the impact.
Next, via CarbonBrief, a NASA map revealed that most of the world’s carbon monoxide releases are now coming from the Indonesian blaze:
The Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers, an Australian NGO, has more on impacts of the Indonesian fires:
Scientists have been warning for many months that the Asia-Pacific region will face ‘Godzilla’ this year — a fire-breathing El Niño drought of frightening severity.
Devastating air pollution from Indonesian forest and peatland fires — especially in Sumatra, Borneo, and New Guinea — have become a virtually annual event. Add a major El Niño drought to the mix — as is happening now — and the situation is inevitably a lot worse.
Predictably, the burning season this year has turned into an international disaster. Among the more notable calamities:
- Because of the dense, choking smoke, schools and airports across large expanses of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have had to be repeatedly closed; Micronesia and the Philippines are also suffering.
- Hospitals in burning centers In Indonesia have reported large spikes in the number of people in respiratory distress, with medical authorities warning people not to go outside.
- Singapore has launched legal actions and arrested high-ranking employees from several forest-destroying corporations that are headquartered there, leading to a major diplomatic spat with Indonesia.
- This year, carbon pollution from rampaging Indonesian peat fires alone have exceeded the carbon emissions produced by the entire United States economy.
- Politicians in Indonesian Borneo recently wore face masks to Parliament, to protest the rampant fires, and have threatened a class-action lawsuit against the Indonesian federal government.
- The respected Indonesian forest expert and ALERT member, Dr Erik Meijaard, has recently called the nation’s fires the “biggest environmental crime of the twenty-first century”.
Finally, via NASA’s Earth Observatory, an aerial view of fires raging on the Indonesian island of Borneo [and, no, those aren’t clouds — that’s smoke]. Makassar Strait is on the lower right:
Next, those fires in Amazonia, starting with some good news in the form of an Agence France-Presse report from Phys.Org:
A fire that for more than a month has ravaged a region in northeast Brazil inhabited by an isolated Native American tribe has finally been contained, the authorities said.
Luciano Evaristo, a local director of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, said Friday that heavy rains had extinguished 90 percent of the fires in Maranhao state, on the edge of the Amazon jungle, with an additional 10 percent now under control.
The destruction has been extensive in the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve, amounting to more than half its 413,000 hectares (1 million acres), or the rough equivalent of 190,000 football fields.
And a key detail:
The indigenous people have said the fire was “of criminal origin,” blaming it on clandestine timber-cutting operations. They say the blaze was in retaliation for efforts by the natives to step up surveillance to prevent the illegal deforestation of their lands, according to Greenpeace.
“They are burning our forest, and it’s a crime against my people and against the isolated peoples but also against the biodiversity of the Earth,” an Arariboia leader, Olimpio Guajajara, told Greenpeace a few days ago.
And to put the latest fire in context, consider this from Vice News:
A recent government report estimated that there are more than 1,000 active fires in the Amazonas state, while nearly 190,000 fires have been reported countrywide side the beginning of the year. The number marks a 23 percent increase from last year, and a 209 percent increase from 2013.
Drought has plagued other parts of the country, including the São Paulo, where authorities have said the water shortage is “critical.” Other central states, such as Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, and Minas Gerais have also shown a spike in drought-fueled fires.
Earlier this year, President Dilma Rousseff promised to achieve zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 while restoring 120,000 square kilometers that had been cleared. She also announced, in September, that Brazil would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent in 2025 and 43 percent by 2030.
But environmentalists say the goals are weak and noted that policies have yet to slow forest loss. According to a report by the group IMAZON, deforestation in the region between August 2014 and June 2015, had increased by 65 percent compared to the previous period.