Minority Whip: Earth’s lungs are burning?

Despite what you might be told, the Amazon rainforest isn’t going to fade into thin air any time soon.


Wolfgang Frick

Check back every Monday on the TKC website to read Wolfgang’s musings about what’s going on each week.

Introducing the Minority Whip, Wolfgang Frick’s new weekly column about global issues, so named because conservatives and libertarians feel routinely insignificant when compared to the left, which has arguably controlled pop culture for decades. Check back every Monday on the TKC website to read Wolfgang’s musings about what’s going on every week.

What would sound like the ranting of a deranged doomsday theorist in 1969 is a news headline in 2019. Axios, an online newspaper, wrote on Aug. 22 that the Amazon rainforest, one of the most environmentally sacred regions in the world, had caught fire. The New York Times and other large publications soon would follow suit. Dozens of celebrities began sharing photos of forest fires, sanctimoniously preaching to their tens of millions of followers about how “Earth’s lungs are burning.” Sure, that looks great on a protest sign or in a social media post from your favorite woke ideologue, but it’s woefully ignorant of the truth of the matter in Brazil at the moment.

In Brazil, it’s illegal for farmers to cut down or intentionally set fire to virgin rainforest trees, and these laws are especially enforced during the driest months of the year. But not all forest fires are illegal, and just because there are trees in the Brazilian state of Amazonas doesn’t necessarily mean that they belong to the Amazon rainforest. The farmers and cattle ranchers who call Amazonas home need to somehow make a living off their land, and in order to make sure their parcels are covered in fresh grass for the cattle, controlled fires are used to burn away the old grass to make way for the new.

This column isn’t a thinly veiled attempt to play down the severity of deforestation worldwide. Last year, we globally lost 30 million acres of tree cover, 8.9 million of which were rainforest trees, according to the University of Maryland. But in Brazil, the rainforest is not currently endangered by the fires. This has not deterred celebrities, whose holier-than-thou rants on how “we have to save the rainforest” graced the eyes of their tens of millions of followers as they scrolled through social media. Cristiano Ronaldo, who is largely known for touching his foot to a ball and launching it into a net as opposed to weighing in on scientific matters, posted a photo of a fire in southern Brazil from 2013 to show “solidarity” with the rainforest. Leonardo DiCaprio posted a photo of a forest fire that dates back 20 years, and other celebrities posted even older photos.

To add insult to injury, many of the claims that accompany these vacuous posts are misleading and uninformed. While Oxford University ecologist Yadvinder Malhi found that the Amazon is responsible for 16 percent of photosynthesis on land, that number decreases to 9 percent when accounting for phytoplankton in the ocean. But trees also use oxygen to power cellular respiration, which allows them to break down the sugars they receive from the soil into energy to power photosynthesis. That puts the Amazon rainforest at an oxygen output of zero. Even if a leftist doomsday scenario ensues wherein the Amazon is razed and becomes a largely dry and flat savanna, humanity will not spontaneously end.

Despite what you might hear from celebrities who don’t know what they’re talking about, the Amazon rainforest is going to be just fine, and by extension, so are we. And even if the Amazon doesn’t survive much longer as a rainforest, the world’s oxygen supply will not simply disappear into thin air. We’ve got plenty left in case of a rainy day.