the Amazon Rainforest is still on fire and we need to save it
photo by Andrew Coelho
Author: Rebecca Schmidtke
The Amazon rainforest is “the lungs of the Earth”, it produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and it’s currently on fire. Fires have been raging for over two weeks and over 72,000 fires have been reported in Brazil’s rainforest this year alone; that’s an 84% increase since last year! This is just another startling display of the effects of climate change.
The Amazon rainforest is the world’s most biodiverse region, it covers approximately 2.6 million square miles, spanning over six countries, and is home to 10% of Earth’s flora and fauna. Over 30 million people call the Amazon home including 1 million Indigenous Peoples that are broken up into approximately 400 distinct tribes. People have lived in the region for over 11,000 years; Indigenous Peoples in the region depend on the land and the land depends on them. Over the past century deforestation has increased, threatening the biodiversity and people that the land provides for. The threat expands beyond the region itself, the Amazon is vital to the health of our planet.
The rainforest is also a carbon sink, which means that it stores carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen for the planet. As previously mentioned, the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, how it does this is through photosynthesis. Through this process it stores up to 80 to 140 billion metric tons of carbon, thus making it a carbon sink. If the rainforest were to undergo a catastrophic loss (like the fires are posing) it could cause mass extinctions, leaving a million people without homes and their way of life, and for an irreversible amount of carbon to be released into the earth’s atmosphere. Without the Amazon, we would be defenseless against climate change.
photo by Stiven Gaviria
As previously mentioned, the Amazon is home to many Indigenous tribes, their culture and way of life have become intertwined with the workings of the rainforest. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon are the ones on the frontlines protecting the forest. They have endured violence and the shrinking of their land. Right now their home is burning around them. Their fight to protect their land and their rights is not new but under the new Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro’s lack of environmental protections and respect for Indigenous Rights has increased the threat of violence and put many at risk at losing their homes and way of life. There is no other way of putting it, it is a form of Genocide. The fires are just an environmental issue but an assault on human rights.
You can learn more about this here.
July and August are the ‘dry months’ for the region and this time of the year is common for forest fires. However there has been an 84% increase in fires this year, the majority of these fires are raging across Brazil, where the largest percentage of the rainforest is housed. Fires had been burning for weeks before media coverage took hold of the story. This lack of coverage speaks to the urgency of conversations needed around climate change and climate action. Many people have lost their homes in the fires and may have had to flee their cultural lands and seek refuge in safer areas.
The fires have been raging for over three weeks now. Right now the exact damage is unknown but there is a very possible risk of the damages being irreversible and could leave us potential defenseless against impending climate change threats. An article from CNN has stated that about 20% of the Amazon has already been destroyed. "The newest science now says if we deforest, if there's a clearing of more than about 30% to 40% of the Amazon rainforest, it will start to dry out. We'll pass an irreversible tipping point."
Immediate action needs to be taken now to stop the fires and conserve the remaining rainforest. The G7 has pledged €20 million to fight the fires but its going to take more than funds to rectify this environmental disaster, it needs follow through and direct action. French President, Emmanuel Macron, has personally spoken out against, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's lack of protection of the rainforest. These 'attacks' has led Bolsonaro to refuse the donation from the G7 and now the issue is how the money will be donated to fire relief.
Seeing political issues like these take shape during a global crisis like this is infuriating to observe and has left me feeling powerless to an issue this large in size. If you feel the same way, I will be touching on how we can make an impact as individuals later in the article. We can't give up hope on the Amazon.
We don’t have to look any further than ourselves. Humans are directly to blame for these fires; deforestation has left the Amazon vulnerable to degradation. The increase in this years forest fires could be linked to the decisions that the current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s decisions to prioritize business over environmental protections. He has made the Amazon open for business, clearing more land in forest for various projects like mining, farming, and logging, in the last three years combined. In years previous, forest fires had been because of lack of rain and high temperatures but this year the region has been because of the decrease in environmental protections and increase in deforestation. Scientists say the Amazon has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since the president took office in January, with policies favouring development over conservation. Lack of governmental action has left our global environment at risk. The more we allow business to be prioritized over the environment the greater risk we put ourselves in, the loss of the Amazon could be catastrophic to our defense climate change. It's not just Brazil, many other countries have countries have environmental protections, more needs to be done by our governments to lead the charge against climate change and we need to make sure they take up this call.
why has deforestation increased?
Beef production continues to increase globally and with limited land available produce beef cattle, many have taken to illegal clear-cutting of lands, like what’s happening in the Amazon, to create space for cattle ranching. Fires have been set intentionally in the Amazon to deforest lands for this production. The current fires and the state of deforestation in the Amazon highlights the issues within the global beef production sector. It hasn't just caused deforestation in the Amazon it is a global issue and it is causing serve environmental consequences. You can learn more about this here.
Humans are the ones that have created these environmental issues but we can also be the ones to fight against them and stop them.
how can I help?
I have been fascinated by the Amazon ever since I was little and seeing it burn in front of my eyes and feeling like there is nothing I can do to stop it has left me feeling scared and powerless. Over the past several months I have felt a tremendous amount of ‘eco-anxiety’ but I have been trying to channel these anxious feelings into motivation. I know I’m not alone in feeling like I need to do something, anything, to fight climate change.
Right now the Amazon needs immediate action to help protect it. The news surrounding the loss caused by the fires is overwhelming but we can’t lose hope while there is still actions we can take. Here are some ways you can help from wherever you are in the world -
1. Sign petitions
- Greenpeace has a Save the Amazon Petition
2. Cut out even just reduce your beef consumption
You can reduce your meat consumption by participating in Meatless Mondays
If/when you do eat beef, learn where you are getting it from and support local farmers who are producing beef in a sustainable way
Cut it out completely by going vegetarian or vegan!
3. Buy smart
Check out this list from the Rainforest Alliance on companies that produce rainforest friendly products
Being a conscious consumer and buying local, and low-waste from places like bare market can help reduce your carbon footprint and help our environment
4. If you are able to, donate to organizations dedicated to protecting the Amazon
5. Write to government officials about the importance of rainforest protections and demand they take action
Check out this tip sheet on how to write an effective letter to the government official from Amnesty International
Author Bio: Rebecca Schmidtke graduated from Queen's Univerity with a degree in Global Development. She currently works in the Non-For-Profit Sector and volunteers with Amnesty International. Rebecca has always been passionate about the environment and strongly believes that climate action is the only forward to create long-lasting sustainable development. She believes that empowering people to take climate action into their own hands through education and political activism is one way we can all be engaged with fighting climate change and work towards a better and greener future.