opinion

The destruction of Australia's own Amazon, one of the most irreplaceable sites on earth.

The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for a month.

Smoke is visible from space. Every second, we’re losing the area of a soccer field, and edging closer than ever before towards the point of no return.

At the G7 summit, world leaders offered the equivalent of AUD$32 million in aid to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticised for his (lack of) environmental policies, and failure to act.

President Bolsonaro, it appears, has rejected the offer.

The resounding question posed by members of the public, who have seen photographs of ashen trees and empty forests and cities thrown into darkness as travelling smoke blocks their sun, is: How did we not know?

The single largest tropical rainforest on the planet, responsible for more than 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen supply, was burning to the ground and no one even bothered to tell us.

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While the 80,000 fires that have ravaged, and continue to ravage the Amazon rainforest is cause for global alarm and immediate action, Australians might consider looking for a moment at their own backyard.

The Daintree, the oldest rainforest in the world, might not be so far behind.

We are home to a rainforest ranked as the second most irreplaceable World Heritage Area on earth, and although it might not be on fire – it is at just as much risk as South America’s Amazon.

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Of the 11 ‘deforestation fronts’ around the world, as identified by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Daintree sits alongside the Amazon, making it the only location in the developed world.

According to the most recent research, 50 per cent of Queensland’s tropical forests have already been destroyed. Of the wet tropics, 52 per cent is now under pasture. The threat to animal populations and native flora is absolutely comparable to the Amazon.

Between 2015 and 2016, almost 400,000 hectares of native vegetation was destroyed, which equates to about 1,500 football fields of land.

Michael Slezak wrote for The Guardian in 2018: “Queensland clears more land each year than the rest of Australia put together, and the rate at which it is destroying its vegetation is comparable with the infamous deforestation that occurs in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil bulldozes about 0.25% of its part of the Amazon each year; Queensland clears about 0.45% of its remaining wooded areas”.

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Before we hold our head in our hands, cursing the Brazilian government for its treatment of the Amazon, we might want to reflect on some of Australia’s own choices.

Most of our tree clearing is done to create pasture for livestock. While this process was heavily addressed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, more recent legislation has made clearing trees easier. As a result, half of the species living in the Daintree are under serious threat.

What we need, according to WWF-Australia, is laws to stop excessive tree-clearing – the very practice that kicked off the Amazon disaster. We need Zero Net Deforestation. And soon.

Extreme heat as a result of climate change is also threatening more than half of the animal species in the rainforest, who are facing imminent extinction if nothing changes.

A statement released earlier this year by the management authority for the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area read: “This is occurring now, not in the future, and requires an immediate response”.

The concern isn’t imagined. It’s not hyperbolic or overstated. We are losing the Daintree rainforest before our very eyes and we must commit to preserving every inch we have left.

While we might feel entirely helpless at a time when the Amazon rainforest is burning, and the Daintree is being threatened, there are a number of things we can all do to take the pressure off our rainforests.

  • We can eat less meat. Trees are being cleared to make way for livestock.
  • Go paperless.
  • Do not burn firewood excessively.
  • Support Indigenous populations.
  • Consider carefully how you vote and what environmental policies are being espoused.
  • Buy responsibly sourced products.

Once a rainforest loses a certain percentage of its biodiversity, it can be irreversible. As Umair Irfan put it for Vox, “[the] orchestra will fall out of tune”.

If any good can come from the spectacle of the burning Amazon, let it be a renewed passion for our rainforests – some of the most important places in the world.

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