Record-breaking flames are destroying the Amazon Rainforest—here’s how you can help
The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest and river system in the world and has been burning for three weeks. Fires are raging across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Thick black smog from the deforestation-driven fires covered Sao Paulo, Brazil on Monday— over 1,670 miles away from the flames— and left Brazil's largest city in darkness during the day.
We're all quite literally doomed if our generation doesn't start to get fired up about deforestation. We must all take action as one of our main resources for the substance that sustains us is on fire. This is a global emergency.
While in Belize, I learned that the Mayan civilization likely collapsed after deforestation led to extreme drought. All of the primary forests in Belize were cut down to use for fires to heat limestone until it reached the point where it could be used as a building material for Mayan cities. When the forest was gone, and the rain was scarce, not even human sacrifice could reclaim the collapsed climate. The Mayans were praying rather than taking action. I guess it's true that history repeats itself. Humans never learn.
How the Amazon became aflame
Deforestation by burning is the quickest way to clear trees. It's speculated that the blazes were started to illegally clear the jungle for cattle ranches and farmland for soybean crops which are used to feed livestock. 80 percent of soybean crops are used to feed livestock globally— only 20 percent of cultivated soybeans are consumed by people.
Brazil is the world's largest beef and poultry exporter. The Brazilian Amazon is one of the largest cattle ranching regions with 80 percent of all converted lands in the jungle used for cattle ranching, although 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal.
Why we all must care about the Amazon fires
We're living in a climate crisis. The Amazon is the Earth's lungs and is frankly irreplaceable. Humanity cannot survive without the Amazon, which produces 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen. The ocean contributes 50 to 80 percent of the Earth's oxygen. But, things aren't going so well out at sea either. We're destroying the ocean with fuel and plastics.
Annually, the trees in the Amazon store 2.2 billion tons of carbon, which slows down global warming. When the Amazon's trees burn, they emit carbon, which contributes to the climate collapse. CO2 emissions from wildfires across the Brazillian Amazon in August were at their highest level since 2010 according to the EU's Copernicus Earth observation system.
We could face a fate similar to the vicious cycle that dismantled ancient Mayan society. Without the rainforest, there will be no rain in the Amazon because much of the rain is generated by the rainforest itself. When rainfall declines, there are extended periods of drought. The dryness of the forest leads to wildfires, which spreads quickly due to minimal moisture in the ecosystem. The rainforest becomes so dry that animals and plants can't survive. It becomes impossible to produce food to sustain human life.
There were 38,227,000 recorded hot spots in the Amazon as of August 19th. A dire increase of 140% from the previous year and 70% over the average of the last three years. The inferno is raging and rapidly causing mass destruction and directly contributing to the environmental decimation.
The fires will also have devastating effects on humans, flora, and fauna. Indigenous people will be displaced as the fire spreads— over 1 million indigenous people live in the Brazilian Amazon. The fires have destroyed the natural habitat for many animals. The Amazon is home to 10% of the world's known biodiversity. More than a third of all species live in the Amazon rainforest— some can't be found anywhere else on Earth.
Is Brazilan President Bolsonaro to blame?
The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) released data that as of August 20th there have been 74,000 fires in Brazil since President Bolsonaro took office. That's an 84% increase from the same period in 2018. In June, Inpe published that there'd been an 88% increase in deforestation in the last year. Bolsonaro, who favors development over conservation, fired the head of Inpe, Ricardo Galvao, over the deforestation data which he felt undermined the government.
Bolsonaro is being criticized after his jarring response to the flames. During his campaign, he promised to restore the Brazilian economy by exploring the Amazon's economic potential. In April, Bolsonaro suggested opening a vast protected reserve in the Amazon for mining because he believes the country should "use the riches that God gave us."
The mineral-rich National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) is the area that may succumb to mining. Renca occupies about 17,800 square miles, making it larger than Denmark. To follow through with this plan, Bolsonaro would have to lift protections that have been in place since 1984. Exploiting Renca would endanger indigenous people who live in the rainforest.
Bolsonaro has made it clear that his primary interest is capitalistic gain— not the indigenous people of his country or the environment. He dismantled Funai, which protected the over 300 indigenous groups in Brazil. Fighting to protect the environment has led to the death of 20 environmental activists in Brazil.
Conservationists believe Bolsonaro's dangerous rhetoric has encouraged loggers and farmers to illegally clear land in the Amazon with fire. This is a crime against the planet and humanity. The climate crisis denier accused non-governmental organizations of setting the fires to undermine his leadership— he admitted he had no evidence to back up the conspiracy theory.
How you can take action for the Amazon
There are many things you can do if you feel helpless. Don't let climate change fatigue prevent you from taking action. Rest, recharge, then raise awareness. First, we must support the Amazon's guardians, the indigenous people who've been protecting this land long before colonialism and capitalism began destroying our planet.
Donate to COIAB Amazonia, a charity for Amazon indigenous leadership. Support the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil and their boycott of companies that have relationships with invaders of protected areas.
Invest in the communities who are fighting for their lives. Valeria Hinojosa is a Bolivian influencer who is fundraising to support grassroots efforts such as water plans and supplies for firefighters.
Rainforest Alliance listed other Brazilan organizations where you can donate directly or through the international charity which is redirecting all donations to the following projects working to defend the Amazon and indigenous rights: Imaflora an organization for sustainable Brazilian agriculture, Institute Sociaamiental, Imazon, and Project Saude e Algeria.
You can make a difference digitally if you don't have funds to spare. Sign petitions that hold the Brazilian government accountable. Use the Ecosia search browser — they plant a tree for every 45 searches and have already planted over 65 million. Plant trees in your community, we can never have too many of the life-sustaining plant.