Three weeks after the Amazon Rainforest fires began, the issue has finally found mainstream media coverage, with popular news outlets CNN and NBC reporting on the issue after Brazil’s largest city Sao Paulo was plunged into daytime darkness due to the smoke and images of the city looking apocalyptic began circulating on social media.
Shannon Sims, a lawyer turned journalist with a focus on Brazil, tweeted: “Just a little alert to the world: the sky randomly turned dark today in Sao Paulo, the meteorologists believe it’s smoke from the forest burning *thousands* of kilometres away, in Rondonia or Paraguay. Imagine how much has to be burning to create that smoke(!). SOS.”
Just a little alert to the world: the sky randomly turned dark today in São Paulo, and meteorologists believe it’s smoke from the fires burning *thousands* of kilometers away, in Rondônia or Paraguay. Imagine how much has to be burning to create that much smoke(!). SOS? pic.twitter.com/P1DrCzQO6x— Shannon Sims (@shannongsims) August 20, 2019
Credit: Shannon Sims.
Reuters reported that Brazil’s space research center INPE detected almost 72,843 fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, an 84% increase on the same period in 2018.
On Twitter, the hashtags #AmazonRainforest and #PrayforAmazonia are trending, with upsetting photos of the forest fires widely circulating. One user, conservation group WWF UK, posted an image of the Amazon fires stating: “There was worldwide outcry when the Notre Dame cathedral was on fire. Why is there not the same level of outrage for the fires destroying the Amazon Rainforest?”
Image credit: WWF-UK
The fires are raging in uninhabited areas of the forest as well as populated areas in the states of Rondonia and Acre with the smoke haze spilling into Brazil’s neighbouring countries of Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia.
The Amazon rainforest, which is roughly half the size of the United States and produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, is considered the “lungs of the Earth”. Home to hundreds of indigenous tribes, the Amazon rainforest is rich in wildlife and natural resources. However, if the forest continues to burn at unprecedented rates, scientists and environmentalists warn it will emit more carbon into the atmosphere. With the world already losing more than one football pitch of forest every second due to deforestation, there are huge concerns that the Amazon fires will plunge the planet further into a climate crisis.
What’s causing the fires?
Fires in the Amazon typically occur in July and August, as farmers use slash-and-burn tactics to clear land for farming and pasture. The New York Times confirms that the fires “have been set by farmers clearing their land” with about 4.5 million acres being burned.
According to Adam Voiland at NASA, the fires are not unusual for this time of year. Sourcing data from the Global Fire Emissions Database he states that “satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years. Though activity has been above average in Amazonas and to a lesser extent in Rondônia, it has been below average in Mato Grosso and Pará.”
Dr Joe Hanson a Ph.D. biologist, science writer and creator of @okaytobesmart on YouTube shares his own views, laying blame on Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro:
“Are #AmazonRainforest fires due to climate change? Climate change-induced droughts can *enable* wildfires, but fires are usually set intentionally by humans to clear land for agriculture, mining, logging etc. They’re frequently set on indigenous lands. Don’t ignore the why (us)…”
“Why are fire numbers so bad this year? Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has enabled groups that seek to exploit the Amazon rainforest by incentivizing deforestation. Deforestation has risen under his “watch”.”
Are #AmazonRainforest fires due to climate change? Climate change-induced droughts can *enable* wildfires, but fires are usually set intentionally by humans to clear land for agriculture, mining, logging etc. They’re frequently set on indigenous lands. Don’t ignore the why (us)— Joe Hanson (@DrJoeHanson) August 21, 2019
Even before Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office, he had vowed to open the Amazon rainforest to business interests; encouraging industry to develop the Amazon region. To achieve this, Bolsonaro has removed environmental laws and scrapped environmental roles in the government (for example, Bolsonaro fired the head of Brazil’s space agency last month after a dispute over satellite driven deforestation data). Furthermore, he has already planned three major building projects in the Amazon.
Yesterday, without evidence or records to support his claims, the right-wing President went so far as to accuse NGOs of setting fire to the Amazon rainforest themselves to bring about problems for Brazil.
So what can you do to help?
Watching the earth “lungs” go down in flames and don’t want to sit idly or leave it up to God to answer the world’s prayers (if you believe in God that is)? Here’s how you can help:
- Tweet, share, post about this issue on your social media platforms. Mainstream media took weeks to report on this issue but it was concerned citizens and environmentalists that have forced this issue front and centre. Never underestimate people power.
- Put pressure on Brazilian agribusinesses or companies that have business ties or trade deals in the region. Apply social media pressure to have governments impose tough legislations and duties of care on companies that have supply chains in Brazil. According to The Guardian, an international outcry prompted Norway and Germany to halt donations to Brazil’s Amazon fund.
- Sign petitions such as this one by Change.org, launched by Gabriel, a Brazilian lawyer living in the heart of the Amazon and seeking “an inquiry to investigate what is leading to the increase in fires in this region and hold the culprits to account.”
- Consider donating to frontline Amazon Rainforest groups that work to protect the rainforest. Amazon Watch, founded in 1996, is one such nonprofit organization. It partners with indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin and environmental organisations to defend the rainforest from business interests. Donate here: amazonwatch.org/donate.
- Adopt a plant-based diet, drastically reduce your meat consumption or buy sustainably-sourced meat. More than a football field of Amazon rainforest is cut down every hour to produce livestock feed and meat for predominantly European markets. Cutting demand of meat raised in this region will help slow deforestation. Read this post to understand how your choice of meat can help to save the Amazon rainforest.
- Support businesses and organisations that promote tree-planting initiatives and rainforest campaigns such as Rainforest Alliance and the environmentally-focussed search engine Ecosia.
Have any other suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment below!
- What the Brazilian Election of President Jair Bolsonaro Means for the Global Environment and Human Rights
- Amazon Rainforest Fires: Why a ‘People-First’ Approach to Climate Action is Better Than Telling Folks to Go Vegan
- Voting Green: How to Encourage People to Vote for Politicians That Support Climate Action
- UN Climate Change Report: Land Clearing and Farming Contribute a Third of the World’s Greenhouse Gases
- How the G7 Can Save the Amazon Rainforest
- New Study Finds Amazon Rainforest Fires Gets 93% Less Coverage on Cable News Than the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire
Feature image of Brazilian Amazon Forest burning to open space for pasture. Credit: Shutterstock.