As 2019 draws to a close, it’s crucial to understand just how drastic the environmental state of affairs are as 2020 begins.
The infamous Amazon forest fires that made headlines this year has continued to reach new heights in terms of deforestation. According to Brazilian government data, approximately 9,762 square kilometers of rainforest have been lost in the last year, which is a 29.5 % increase and has since then become the highest rate of loss since 2008.
Despite such detrimental figures, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has rejected an offer of $20 million in foreign aid to help fight the fires during the G7 (an organisation made up of the world's seven largest so-called advanced economies) summit in France. Thus, the potential for loss of both human and wildlife has exponentially increased as damage continues to be inflicted on the home that the Amazon has become for millions of different inhabitants.
Yet, the damage spreads to a much greater scope of impact. As a vital carbon machine that slows down the pace of global warming, the deforestation in the Amazon is adding to the already abundant environmental issues that are occurring.
The smoke from the burning forests has intensified the rate of glaciers melting, fueling concerns in the scientific community. Researchers have also made a specific point to mention how the reduction of the Amazon rainforest is affecting the Andes mountains, 2,027 kilometers away.
Dr. Newton de Magalhães Neto from Rio de Janeiro State University stated, “They have social implications at the continental scale, [because] accelerating the loss of glaciers increases the risk of a water crisis and the vulnerability of several Andean communities in response to climate change."
The Arctic Circle
As particles of the carbon fumes are carried by the wind and deposited on various glaciers, it’s important to note that the ice on Earth has been facing rapid thinning as the years progress.
In a recent study released, the diminishing thickness of ice shelves, or permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a large landmass, is matched almost exactly by an acceleration in the glaciers feeding in behind them.
“The response is instantaneous,” says Professor Hilmar Gudmundsson from Northumbria University, “If you thin the ice shelves today, the increase in flow of the ice upstream will increase today - not tomorrow, not in 10 or 100 years from now; it will happen immediately.”
Thus, global sea levels are rising.
With increased meltage in the ice opening new migration routes for marine mammals, this also unfortunately means the possibility of new viruses spreading. With access to the Pacific from the Atlantic and vice versa by way of the Arctic Circle, Tracey Goldstein from the University of California Davis mentions that because of the added stress of needing to find food over farther spreads of land weakens the animals' immune systems, they become easier targets for disease.
In Alaska, for example, an increasing number of sea otters have been diagnosed with phocine distemper virus (PDV) that had initially only been found in Europe and on the eastern coast of North America. Causing the otters to have difficulty breathing and erratic swimming, what Goldstein and her team worry about is the continual spread of the virus as animals can become fall ill through direct contact with another sea animal that has already contracted PDV.
With the Arctic now becoming a melting pot for the transmission of PDV, scientists are vigilant as to whether the disease will be detected in additional areas south in California, where many of the marine species migrate north and interact with animals in regions farther north where the disease has been documented.
On the same topic of marine life, climate change has also been adversely affecting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The combination of the mass coral bleaching that took place in 2016 and 2017, six tropical cyclones, flood plumes and an outbreak of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish has made an outstanding universal value of impact since the last State Party Report in 2015.
The country’s recent official report covering how the ecosystem works in this particular area states, “Climate change is having a detrimental impact on some critical regulating processes such as sea temperature, reef building and recruitment (the addition of new young to the population) which means the ability of the system to ‘bounce back’ is weakening.”
Effectively confirming that the reef is now on the ‘endangered’ list by the World Heritage Committee, both the Australian and Queensland governments has increased funding to become an unprecedented $2.7 billion over the next decade as the climate change in the country was among the worst in all G20 countries.
As the dawn of a new decade begins, it’s crucial that yesterday’s issues are solved not only for the sake of our current populace’s well-being, but of the future’s.