The fires that are devastating thousands of acres of Amazonian forest and other parts of the world warn of the great need to protect those resources, for the support of life and diversity of the planet's ecosystems, including Puerto Rico.
Forests provide oxygen and contribute to regulating greenhouse gases. Forest fires reverse that dynamic. They affect the quality of air, soils and water, and the health of living beings while accelerating global warming.
What is happening in the Lung of the World has diverse and complex causes, all associated with human irresponsibility. These disasters combine factors such as severe drought, a result of climate change, and the agro-industry deforesting and burning land. And government complicity that weakens protections on an asset that belongs to humanity joins these factors.
Experts estimate that the region can produce up to 20 percent of the world's oxygen. It is estimated that, in equal proportion, forest fires produce global greenhouse gases. For more than two weeks, flames have been consuming species of flora and fauna in the world's largest tropical forest.
Protected areas had already been more voraciously deforested since ultra-right Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency in Brazil. He has been a detractor of environmental controls, he opposed to international agreements to mitigate climate change and has promoted single-crop farming, industrial cattle ranching, and mining. These sectors are accused of deforesting and burning land to exploit them.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Amazon produces up to 17 percent of the planet's water, hosts 10 percent of the world's biodiversity and more than 34 million people.
This environmental disaster comes along with human tragedy. Approximately 350 indigenous and ethnic communities depend on nature to dress, to feed themselves and treat their illnesses. This population, openly despised by the Brazilian government, is threatened with homelessness and death. The fires will leave those lands arid. And already millions of people in neighboring cities are exposed to smoke and health complications.
The global impact is greater when considering other disasters in Central Africa forests and in other regions of Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, climate change shows in areas such as the northeastern United States where temperatures have been recorded up to 15 degrees above average. And global warming is causing tons of melting glaciers and raises sea levels.
What is happening on the planet has lines in Puerto Rico too. The U.S. Drought Monitor confirmed yesterday that 44 percent of the island experiences abnormal drought, about 20 percent is in moderate drought and 14 percent is under severe drought, particularly in the southern zone, wheregrassland fires are usual.
Forests help mitigate these conditions. Before Hurricane María, the island's forest cover was 60 percent. These resources, home to a rich diversity of species, prevent soil erosion and thus protect water reservoirs. They reduce running water, which prevents flash floods; and protect coral reefs, valuable tourist attractions and natural protectors of our beaches, many of them already suffering from severe erosion.
Now that the Planning Board is reviewing the soil zoning map, citizens and governments must consider the need to preserve our forests with their vital corridors to the coast.
The fires in the Amazon, as well as the accelerated erosion of our beaches, serves as an occasion for Puerto Rico to consider what we do or omit, as individuals, as industries, and as a nation. The events call for planning and acting from an ecological ethic. What happens with the environment affects everyone.