Amazon fires, plastic pollution, peatland protection: 3 stories you may have missed

© Jessica Scranton

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Amazon fires could accelerate global warming and cause lasting harm to a cradle of biodiversity

The fires blazing through the Amazon could accelerate climate change.

The Story: The Brazilian Amazon has experienced an 85 percent increase in fires compared to this time last year, with more than 74,155 fires having occurred since January, reported Andrew Freedman for the Washington Post. Coupled with a spike in deforestation, these fires put the Amazon at risk of reaching a “tipping point” where it will no longer be able to generate its own rainfall and will gradually turn into drylands. The Amazon rainforest absorbs about 140 billion tons of carbon emissions annually, making it essential to keeping the global temperature 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, a target outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The Big Picture: Last week, Conservation News explained five things you need to know about the fires raging through the Amazon — and why, despite the dire news, there is still cause for hope. In a separate post, Conservation International experts answered four questions people may have about the fires, including how the forests can be restored. In that article, Conservation International’s global restoration expert Nikola Alexandre clarified that the Amazon rainforest is “incredibly resilient” and can grow back naturally, but only if given ample distance from damaging human activities such as unsustainable agriculture.

Read the full story.

2. How the plastic bottle went from miracle container to hated garbage

The once ubiquitous — and seemingly harmless — plastic water bottle has become increasingly unpopular among a growing population of environmentally aware consumers.

The Story: Plastic water bottles, the non-biodegradable containers developed in 1973, are at the center of the plastic pollution crisis for the general public, reported Laura Parker for National Geographic. To address this, countries around the world, including Kenya and India, are implementing new laws to ban single-use plastics such as water bottles, while major organizations are exploring new ways to recover and recycle plastic waste.

The Big Picture: More than 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, where it is often confused for prey and ingested by marine animals, causing injury and even death. To address marine plastic pollution and protect our oceans, Conservation International is partnering up with TikTok in a “Save Our Oceans” challenge, through which US$2 will be donated to Conservation International for every video uploaded with the hashtag #SaveOurOceans. This money will be used to help protect 3,000 sq. km (more than 1,100 square miles) of ocean.

Read the full story.

3. As the Amazon burns, Indonesia shows the world how to fight forest fires

Trailblazing government initiatives in Indonesia are helping decrease forest fires during the country’s dry season.

The Story: After a series of fires ravaged Indonesia’s forests in 2015, Indonesian president Joko Widodo implemented policies to prevent deforestation and poor management of peatlands — both major causes of fire during the dry season, reported Nithin Coca for OZY. By establishing a peatland restoration agency for peatland (wetlands that contain large amounts of organic material that act like a sponge, soaking up and storing rainfall) and strengthening enforcement against deforestation, the country was able to decrease fires by 32 percent in 2017, while deforestation rates dropped by 60 percent.

The Big Picture: “The government has become much more serious on the fires … issue since 2015,” said Arief Wijaya, senior forests and climate manager at World Resources Institute Indonesia, adding that authorities now pursue “the actors, businesses and local people who are responsible for setting fires for land clearing.” As fires in the Amazon continue to devastate the region, Indonesia could serve as a valuable model for how to respond to this crisis.

Read the full story.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Cover image: Bodogol forest, Indonesia. (© Jessica Scranton)

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