Humanity and nature are interdependent, which is why the deterioration of one leads to the decline of the other. From melting icebergs and rising sea levels to hurricanes of unprecedented strength, the effects of climate change are a threat to human existence. According to one UN global assessment report, “The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history.”
The sheer number of fires in 2019 is indeed alarming. Scientists at Brazil’s space research centre INPE have recorded more than 70,000 fires in that country since the beginning of 2019 – a whopping 83% increase in wildfires over the same period of 2018. The Amazon, covering 5.5 million square kilometres (2.1 million square miles) over nine countries, is home to several threatened species of plants, trees and animals. As the world witnessed the rainforest fires blaze out of control for over 16 days, most of us couldn’t possibly fathom its far-reaching effects on worldwide supply chains and procurement. In this blog, we discuss how the Amazon wildfires will affect various industries and their sourcing. But, before that, let’s dig into their possible causes and immediate impact on the environment.
Possible Causes Behind the Rainforest Disaster
There are several causes of wildfires – from an electric short circuit to lightning, campfires or even something as ordinary as a burning cigarette butt. Fallen leaves, dry grass and branches can easily catch fire and cause extended damage. However, unlike Canada and the United States, where many wildfires are caused by lightning strikes in summer, they’re not a usual, natural occurrence in the Amazon. Instead, the fires may have been caused by humans – either intentionally or accidentally.
The Vicious Cycle
Wildfires release huge amounts of pollutants and toxic gasses like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, black carbon, brown carbon and ozone precursors into the atmosphere. The bigger the forest, the bigger the emission. In a vicious chain of events, the fires generate a lot of carbon dioxide, while also destroying the greenery that would otherwise take in the harmful gas and release oxygen into the environment. It’s a double loss.
This huge amount of carbon dioxide retains heat within our atmosphere because of the greenhouse effect and may also contribute to glacial melting and other catastrophic climate changes. The Amazon rainforest, which is home to a variety of unique exotic woods and plants, is estimated to generate about half of its own rainfall. Less rain means drier vegetation and drier air which can cause even more fires. This is dangerous!
How the Amazon Wildfire Will Affect Different Industries
The Pharmaceutical Industry
Almost 25% of modern medicines are derived from plants and trees from the Amazon rainforest. It’s home to almost 80,000 species of plants considered useful for drug production in Western medicine. In the last couple of decades, the industry has obtained more than 48.6% of cancer-combatting agents from the Amazon rainforest, like vinca alkaloids, taxane diterpenoids, camptothecin quinolone alkaloid and epipodophyllotoxin lignans.
The Timber Industry
The wood industry largely depends on the tropical hardwood of the Amazon rainforest, so this massive fire calamity is a setback for the hardwood supply chain. From making musical instruments and installing hardwood flooring to manufacturing Asian chopsticks and paper rolls, wood serves many purposes. The industry sources different types of wood from the Amazon, including mahogany, teak and purpleheart.
The Meat Industry
Cattle ranching generates almost 340 million tons of carbon every year (3.4% of recent global emissions). Cattle pastures always carry a certain amount of risk, making the forest susceptible to fire. The meat industry can expect a downturn following the Amazon rainforest wildfire. Consequently, the supply of beef from cattle grazed in the rainforest may dwindle.
The Cosmetics Industry
The Amazon rainforest spreads across much of northwestern Brazil and extends into parts of Peru, Colombia and other South American countries. The cosmetics industry heavily depends on the rainforest to obtain the world’s best beauty and skincare ingredients. Below are some important ingredients sourced by the cosmetics industry that could now become scarce
The clay made from the region’s decomposed plant material is rich in trace minerals such as calcium, aluminum, magnesium, silica, phosphorous, copper and zinc.
Rich in vitamin B, electrolytes, and trace minerals, açaí reduces cell inflammation and improves physical energy. The cosmetic industry uses it for anti-aging and other beauty treatments.
The analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the andiroba tree help soothe tense, aching muscles. Andiroba also contains fatty acids, making it an ideal ingredient for moisturizers.
Good for reducing inflammation and boosting skin elasticity, cavalinha is often used to treat acne, cellulite, hair and nails.
Besides its analgesic and sedating properties to relieve stress, lemongrass oil works as an astringent on the skin.
A good source of emollient butter that’s full of vitamins, murumuru is often used in manufacturing lip balm and hair conditioners.
Wildfires are fast and unpredictable, and it’s hard to recover from the losses they incur. They can occur anytime and disrupt entire supply chains. Although time and different strategies can help bring the situation under control, the lesson it leaves behind is a tough one. As responsible human beings, we can ensure that the materials we use daily are environmentally friendly and cause less harm to our surroundings. We can also work towards a circular eco-movement that reduces waste, recycles by-products and minimizes carbon footprint across manufacturing and logistics procedures. It’s not too late to start.