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Bolivia’s Wildfires Have Destroyed 5 Million Acres of Unique Forest and Grassland

Wildfires in Bolivia have destroyed nearly five million acres of forest and grassland this year as of August.

Elias Marat

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Bolivia Wildfires
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(TMU) — Wildfires in Bolivia have destroyed nearly five million acres (two million hectares) of forest and grassland as of August, including in some of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the South American nation, according to officials.

The hardest-hit region has been the Chiquitanía, semi-dry forest lands in the country’s central plains that lies between the Amazon and the Gran Chaco lowland.

The BBC reports that scientists at the College of Biologists in La Paz say it will take 300 years for the local ecosystem and its innumerable native species to regenerate.

Cinthia Asin, the minister of environment for the eastern region of Santa Cruz, has urged President Evo Morales to declare a national disaster to step up firefighting efforts and better channel international aid, as reported by by AFP. But according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies document, because the government has “requested assistance” and has made fighting the fires a “current priority,” “an emergency declaration was not issued.”

“Over 2 million hectares have burned in the department of Santa Cruz, we are going almost a month (with the problem) and the country is not yet declared a national disaster,” Asin said.

Asin added that the blazes have destroyed nearly 2.25 million acres or 900,000 hectares of protected areas, especially in the Otuquis and San Matias areas of eastern Bolivia which are among the Andean nation’s richest in diverse flora and fauna. The number is backed in a recent report by conservationist group Friends of Nature Foundation – Bolivia (FAN-BO).

The government has also come under international pressure to declare extraordinary measures to halt the raging fires, which began in May and intensified in August as the Amazon rainforest in neighboring Brazil also burned.

In July, President Morales issued a decree authorizing an increase in controlled burns in the region. While farmers had previously been allowed to burn up to 12 acres (five hectares), they were allowed under the new authorization to burn up to 50 acres (20 hectares). Since then, the fires have allegedly increased, Mongabay reports. The government, however, has blamed high winds and arid conditions. 

Like in Brazil, the intentional burning of forest land in Bolivia is meant to expand the frontier demarcated for the production of cattle and agricultural products, benefitting transnational agribusiness and livestock monopolies as well as some indigenous small farmers from the western highlands. Among the government’s goals behind the July decree was to expand production and infrastructure to increase beef exports to China.

At the time, Morales said:

“We have the duty and mission to boost Bolivia’s economic growth, not only based on non-renewable natural resources but also based on agriculture.”

Pablo Solón, a former Bolivian ambassador to the U.N. under the Morales administration, has squarely placed the blame for the fires on the government, explaining:

“What is happening is not an accident. Five years ago, the vice president challenged agribusinesses to expand the agricultural frontier by one million hectares per year … Now it has reached that figure, not of productive agricultural land but of land devastated by the flames.”

Some officials are blaming shady forces for deliberately keeping the fires burning. Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta said:

“We are certain that the fire is being deliberately provoked: on the one hand by saboteurs, and on the other hand, by farmers and landowners who are starting fire and fail to control them … this is a macabre game, we put out the fire and there are people behind us who are starting it again, so we will not be able to control the fire.”

As a result of the fires, in late August Morales declared “any sale or purchase of lands affected by the fires is now banned,” after a meeting with the Emergency Cabinet, according to TeleSUR.

Morales explained:

“I want to tell you that I have decided to declare an ‘ecological pause’, which means that in areas affected by the fires, land sales are prohibited; on top of that, we’re planning how to prepare for the post-fire era, because we are going to overcome this.”

Over the past weekend, high temperatures and raging winds continued to stoke the historic fires.

On Monday, Amnesty International sent an open letter to President Morales calling on him to rescind the July decree.

María José Veramendi Villa, South America researcher for Amnesty International, said:

“Brazil is not the only country suffering from the terrible forest fires in the Amazon … Instead of making contradictory and baseless public declarations, Bolivian authorities must scientifically and independently investigate the origin of this serious crisis.”

The fire has proven to be a strong challenge to the legitimacy of Morales, whose political party Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS in Spanish) originally had a strongly pro-ecological or “ecosocialist” orientation before softening its stance over the years toward the country’s large agro-industrial sector, including farmers in Santa Cruz.

Morales, who is currently running for a fourth consecutive term, faces a new vote on October 20.

Long-time opponents of Morales’ left-wing government, including a number of Western-backed NGOs and oppositionists, have seized on the fires to push to have him removed from power in the coming election, the Grayzone reports.

Faced with the anger of local opponents and communities for his perceived blame in pushing the development—and subsequent burning—of the forests, he has redoubled his efforts to combat the blaze. Last month, the president hit the brakes on his election campaign to personally fight the fires.

Morales also agreed to hire the famous firefighting U.S. supertanker plane to drop water on the fires and has also accepted help from Russia, who has sent its own large plane to put out the fires from the sky. Morales previously rented a Boeing 747 capable of carrying up to 150,000 liters of water in late August in an attempt to battle the fires.

Throughout the week, Morales has issued a series of tweets stressing how the fires are painful for the Bolivian nation, thanking international aid and the armed forces for their efforts in helping to put out the blazes.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

Animals

As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists

Elias Marat

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The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

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Environment

Japan Says Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water in Pacific Ocean is Now “Unavoidable”

Elias Marat

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While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast.

In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.

And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.

With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the “unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.

Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.

Fishers also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plight amid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.

Regardless, authorities argue they must deal with the cards that have been dealt.

“What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Wednesday.

Suga is expected to formally decide on the course of action by next Tuesday. If he proceeds, authorities will dilute tritium to 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by the country before it is dumped.

But while Japanese officials say that the water will be safe, it remains an open question whether people will trust their word.

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Environment

Crowds Flock to Lava-Spewing Volcanoes in Italy, Iceland and Guatemala to Get Closer View

Elias Marat

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The year 2021 has so far been a particularly active time for volcanic eruptions. In February and March, three spectacular volcanic eruptions have occurred: the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, Mount Etna in Italy and Pacaya in Guatemala.

In each case, the eruptions have drawn large crowds of curious onlookers and sightseers.

In vivid video captured at Fagradalsfjall volcano on April 1, lava can be seen being spewed as amazed onlookers can be heard in the background. According to local reports, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to the area to view the eruption.

Iceland’s authorities are not anticipating evacuations due to the mile-and-a-half distance from the nearest road.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”

Italy and Guatemala have also experienced a few volcanic eruptions this year.

On March 7, Sicilian villages were showered with ash and lava stone following the eruption of Mount Etna, which began its highly active phase in February.

The Pacaya volcano lying 30 miles south of the Guatemalan capital has also been extremely active since February.

Pacaya’s peak typically attracts tourists, but hikes are temporarily on hold due to the uptick in activity. Pacaya has a clear view of the nearby Volcano of Fire, whose lava flows in a 2018 eruption killed at least 110 people and left rougly 200 missing.

While volcano tourism provides a steady source of income for villages like nearby San Francisco de Sales, locals must balance this with the need to ensure their long-term safety.

So far, however, Pacaya has not yet injured locals.

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