So, the Amazon rainforest—often referred to as the lungs of the earth—is ablaze. Calmness has (finally) turned into calamity but the situation needs a lot more than thoughts and prayers.
Meanwhile, the Internet is busy arguing about why. And discrediting the photos. And challenging facts. And where has the mainstream media been? Oh right, covering the fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. But the bottom line is that for a myriad of reasons, deforestation is wiping out the Amazon rainforest at a harrowing rate and we need to wake up and start pointing the finger at ourselves (more on that later). Thoughts and prayers won’t cut it when it comes to mourning the loss of the Amazon rainforest—this is one funeral you actually have to attend.
Even if you’re not one of the 1.6 billion people that depend on the Amazon every day, you’re one of the 7.7 billion people that are in some way contributing to its rapid deforestation. Yes—politics, corruption, and capitalism are all to blame for the fires, but the rest of us are also to blame and are equally as responsible for finding a solution. But unless you’re a firefighter, it’s unlikely that you can help douse the actual fire. We may be miles away in Asia (around 10,000 to be exact), but we aren’t helpless. Here is what we know, why it matters, and what we can do:
WHAT WE KNOW
The fires aren’t “new” news. Wildfires are common at this time of year. The Amazon burned last year and the year before that. But this year, satellite data has shown an 84% (Institute for Space Research) increase from last year.
At the time of writing, there are currently 2,500 fires burning (CNET). In Brazil alone, around 75,000 fires have burned this year already, up from approximately 40,000 at this time last year.
Deforestation contributes to 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions (World Resources Institute), which is more than the entire European Union emits. The fires cause the carbon stored in the trees to release, which produces dangerous emissions that contribute to climate change.
Not all, but many of the fires are started deliberately (read: by humans) to make room for cattle ranching and often spread as a result of unfavourable conditions such as droughts.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Amazon rainforest breathes in more than it breathes out. Like a sponge, it stores 25% of the world’s carbon (Nature). That amounts to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health) that it keeps out of the atmosphere thus tempering the effects of global warming—that’s 14 decades’ worth of human emissions.
It’s important to note that the Amazon rainforest does not produce 20% of the world’s oxygen. According to an article published by Forbes, it’s impossible for the Amazon to produce that much oxygen. Jonathan Foley, the former executive director of the California Academy of Sciences and the founder of Project Drawdown, believes the number better represents all tropical forests (including those in Africa and Indonesia).
Deforestation also results in a loss of habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems. Today the area is home to around three million unique species of plants and animals (BBC). It is the most biodiverse place on earth.
The area is also home to around one million indigenous people (BBC) including more than 400 tribes who live there and depend on the Amazon for food and medicine. These communities don’t have access to supermarkets or drugstores. They rely on the Amazon to sustain themselves, and also to build homes and forage for food. According to Project Drawdown, indigenous and community-owned lands make up for 18% of all land area, including at least 1.2 billion acres of forest. In several indigenous cultures, plants are viewed the same way as humans, and they think of what is happening to the Amazon today as genocide, not ecocide (Earther). The Amazon crisis is considered by many to be part of a broader war on indigenous people, especially since it’s believed that illegal loggers and miners are starting fires to purposely drive away indigenous communities (VOX).
The smoke is also detrimental to the general health of millions of more people, especially children and the elderly.
WHO IS TO BLAME
Humans. According to CNN, humans are to blame for the fires (both by accident and on purpose). They’re not wrong. But they’re not right either. To start, it’s not all humans; it’s the rapacious capitalist societies with little to no moral and ethical foundation who thrive upon overconsumption and have an insatiable appetite for meat. Both of these factors hugely contribute to global warming and enable deforestation.
But more specifically, it’s one person: Brazil’s own leader Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro was sworn into power on January 1st of this year, and when Bloomberg reported that he would be “extraordinarily pro-business” they were right. Shortly after, together with the country’s environment minister Ricardo de Aquino Salles, they publicly supported logging and farming in the rainforest (National Geographic). Around the same time, it was announced that deforestation had increased by 20% (Independent).
But it’s bigger than just one government. Several world leaders have questioned or dismissed climate change while remaining faithful to Brazil. US President Donald Trump (who Bolsonaro claims is his political role model) holds a similar opinion, going so far as to call climate change a hoax invented by China (Independent). Trump was notably absent from the climate meetings at the G7 summit this past weekend when world leaders met to address the Amazon (and more). “I feel the US has tremendous wealth… I’m not going to lose that wealth on dreams, on windmills—which, frankly, aren’t working too well,” Trump said when asked about missing the meetings (Guardian). “I think I know more about the environment than most.” Fortunately, several other leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, known environmentalists, pledged a $20 million allegiance to help put out the fires also promised to create an international alliance to save the rainforest (it’s not enough—especially when someone like Leonardo Dicaprio pledged $5 million alone—but it’s a start).
WHAT WE CAN DO
1. Support and donate
Whenever you donate money, don’t send your money somewhere because someone told you to. Do your research and make sure the organization is transparent and abides by the same set of principles that you do. By donating to the Rainforest Action Network, you can help protect an acre of the Amazon rainforest. The Rainforest Trust, on the other hand, helps people buy land in the rainforest, and since 1988, they’ve already saved more than 23 million acres. Both the Amazon Watch and the Amazon Conservation Team work to protect the rainforest, defend indigenous rights, and fight climate change. And in case you’re worried about where your money is going, the latter will tell you exactly what it’s being used for, whether it’s planting trees, protecting habitats, buying solar panels or more. Further your commitment by supporting indigenous movements and look for local organizations to back like WWF and PM Haze.
2. Reduce your paper and wood consumption
Listen, we know paper can be recycled, but your toilet paper and lawn furniture still come from somewhere. And unless you’re 100% that your item can be recycled, assume that it can’t be (like did you know your paper coffee cup is probably lined with plastic). Besides the obvious ways like getting a reusable tumbler, other things you can do to reduce your paper and wood consumption are to use both sides of the paper, opt for cloth bags instead of paper bags at the grocery store, use cloth napkins instead of paper, and stay away from paper cups and plates. If you must, opt for bamboo products instead. Check with the Rainforest Alliance for a list of rainforest-safe products or buy directly from them.
3. Reduce (or stop) your beef intake
Agriculture drives 80% of deforestation (Rainforest Alliance). To be more specific, we’re talking chiefly about beef. Trees are being cleared to make room for cattle ranching (VICE), an industry on the rise in the region. According to Greenpeace, making space for crops and livestock is the number one driver of deforestation worldwide. Now, consider that the food it takes to feed these animals is contributing to global warming, too.
According to the Rainforest Foundation, if a person doesn’t eat beef for one year, they save approximately 3,432 trees—let that sink in for a minute. But if you must have that steak, make sure you know where that steak is coming from and bear in mind that most beef found in processed and fast-food often comes from the rainforest (Fast Company).
Take an additional stance by pressuring the Brazilian government by boycotting meat from the region (Finland is already urging the European Union to consider a ban on Brazilian beef) and write in to your government to take a stand against this.
4. Sign petitions
Your voice is louder than you think, so make it heard. Peruse the petitions on change.org and support people like Gabriel Santos, a lawyer in Rio Branco who is nearing his 4,500,000 signature goal in an appeal that looks to help mobilize an investigation into the fires. Greenpeace is running another petition that is lobbying Bolsonaro’s government to save the Amazon rainforest and protect the lands of Indigenous and traditional communities.
5. Lobby your government
Support your country in assisting with the fires directly and also in fighting climate change overall. Or pressure them if they oppose it. Reach out to your elected official and turn up the volume on your opinions so your country does more to take action. Encourage your community to do the same. Most importantly, do your homework and vote carefully.
6. Plant a tree
More than a few organizations are working to prevent deforestation but there are also several that are focusing on reforestation like One Tree Planted. Here in Asia, EcoMatcher is a Hong Kong-based startup that finds innovative ways to become more sustainable. Together with the foundations and farmers that they vet, they plant trees. People who adopt trees can even monitor their tree via an app. This year, instead of buying birthday gifts, why not send a tree instead?
7. Stay current and share
Don’t wait for the latest wave of stories to unfurl and trend online—posting a picture with the hashtag #ActForAmazon isn’t enough. Stay on top of this story, learn the facts, and understand what is happening (because no one wants to listen to someone’s uneducated opinion). Share regular updates with your community, tag news agencies, and even influencers. At the same time, you can also support other peoples’ art and science projects that raise awareness about the Amazon through the Amazon Aid Foundation.
8. Attend a demonstration
People have already taken to the streets in Zurich, Dublin, Paris, London and Madrid. Use Twitter or whatever social media is most active in your region and check trending hashtags like #PrayforAmazonia, #PrayforAmazonas, #AmazonRainforest, and #ActForAmazon to find out about protests in your area.
9. Download and use Ecosia
Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every roughly 40 to 50 searches, and it averages about 71 million searches every week. This means that since the company began in 2009, it has planted more than 65 million trees. Ecoasia uses their ad revenues to fund the initiative, spending their profits for the betterment of our planet—they say that every search request removes 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere. They are also fully transparent and run their servers on renewable energy. Last week they saw an increase of 1150% downloads in one day as a result of the mainstream media coverage surrounding the fires. And in response to that, the company is planting an additional one million trees in the Brazilian rainforest.
10. Consume consciously
Every decision you make makes an impact. Shop local, buy less and only when you need it, and consume responsibly when you do.
#LittleGreenSteps are small changes to your everyday life that are simple to implement but have a huge impact. We’ve been preaching them all along, but recently the United Nations published a report that supports that idea of micro-actions equating to macro impact. We followed that up with a list of money-saving steps that go back to the basics. But for best results, come up with your own list that works for you in your life. This way, you’ll be more inclined to follow them and share them with people in a similar environment or lifestyle to you.
If you want more, check out this thorough ‘Amazon Crisis Guide‘ penned by @lilearthgirl.
Leading image via Amazon João Laet/AFP/Getty Images