here's what to do if you're angry about the amazon rainforest fires
We're angry too. Here's how to channel that energy into something useful.
Aerial view showing smoke billowing from a patch of forest being cleared with fire in the surroundings of Boca do Acre, a city in Amazonas State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019. Photo LULA SAMPAIO/AFP/Getty Images.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
The image that was shared around the world was horrifically dystopian. On Monday, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo plummeted into darkness in the middle of the day, and the world watched on in horror. What they were witnessing was the knock-on effect of the Amazon rainforest, some 2,700 kilometres away, burning at an unprecedented rate, causing a cloud of ash and smoke to block out the sun. The most violent fires had been happening for three weeks at this point, and have increased 84 per cent over the same period last year, with 74,155 fires actively burning between January and August. But somehow, none of us knew about it.
The way the modern news cycle works favours the stories that affect us directly, or reflect the circumstances that are somewhat familiar to us. This is why when the forest fires of California started to creep into the back gardens of the Kardashians, or when the familiar symbol of western Catholicism Notre Dame up in flames was broadcast by news stations around the world, we listened and responded accordingly. The Amazon Rainforest, thousands of miles from many of us and populated by indigenous, often uncontacted communities who don’t have the power to kickstart hashtags campaigns on Twitter, is by that logic less of a priority -- but it shouldn’t be. After all, one in every five breaths we take is made possible because that rainforest exists.
Which is why the outrage that’s now spreading across the internet and news channels, however delayed, is warranted. Some say climate change is to blame; others are pointing a finger at Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro for actively dismantling the policies put in place to stop deforestation and cattle farming in the Amazon, something he started doing just hours after taking office. Chances are it’s a caustic mix of the two: one fanning the very real flames of the other.
Bolsonaro has decided that it’s best to blame the NGOs and charities whose job it is to protect these places from mass destruction for the fires. Speaking to a steel industry congress in the capital Brasilia, he said: “On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil.” It’s worth stating that Bolsonaro has no evidence to back up these claims; they’re baseless hypotheses. Instead, it seems more likely that the fires were purposely lit by cattle farmers. The Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia’s (IERA) Scientific Director, Ane Alecar, has already told the non-profit nature magazine Mongabay that “the fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation.”
Unlike a natural disaster, the blame for the Amazon Rainforest fires are firmly rooted in politics too. So when it comes to putting them out and repairing the damage done, where do we start?
We can hold the establishment to account
Considering the fires are directly tied to the action’s of Brazil’s prime minister and his allies (or lack thereof), it’s fair to say that our first port of call should be powerful government bodies in our own countries who have the opportunity to help change things. We need direct action: active boycotts and protests that put the message into the sights of the power makers. You can sign this petition to demand that the EU and the United Nations put sanctions in place to force Brazil’s government to address the problems surrounding deforestation, or contact your local member of parliament and express your concerns for the part that we play in it. A lawyer in Brazil has even started a petition to force the government to investigate the fires properly, and it has garnered nearly 600,000 signatures already. Or if you want to take to the streets and protest in your own country, Extinction Rebellion have organised a mass protest outside Brazilian Embassies around the world at 11am on Friday.
Don’t let it die as a #trend
What happens when we #prayfor something? The initial hype propels the fight into the public’s consciousness, but without action, it’s just as likely that the support will die out and take the fight against mass deforestation right back to where it started. Unlike incidents like the Notre Dame fire, this is a long term and widespread issue, and the continual support and pressure needed to make a difference is vital. Retweets and hashtagging the #SaveAmazonia is great for now – but what happens when something else takes its place? Consider donating to the Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre, and checking with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure the paper and wood you use is sustainable.
Question your consumption – soy, palm oil and meat
We all know by now that the best way to reduce your impact on the environment is to stop eating meat and animal byproducts. The main cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is agriculture, and like the scientific director of IERA said, the fires currently ravaging there resemble those set by farmers who use the ash to fertilise the soil, growing crops for cattle to graze on. With 80 per cent of those deforested spaces being used for cattle grazing, it’s worth questioning the change that could come from the demand for meat dropping. A recent investigation proved that meat farmed on illegal pastures in the Amazon rainforest was present in tinned meat you could buy on the shelves of five major British supermarkets, so we’re never too far from the problem either.
But vegans and vegetarians aren’t off the hook either: soy is a major money maker for farmers in the Amazon too. Since Trump’s plans to put heavy tariffs on exports from China were put into place, there’s a suggestion that up to 13 million hectares -- that’s an area the size of Greece -- could be cleared in the Amazon to make up the shortfall. A lot of this is to be fed to livestock, but a certain cut of that will find its way into the hands of human consumers too. Will all of these products -- be it soy or the other major commodity palm oil -- it’s best to backtrack and ensure what you’re buying is sustainable. Greenpalm can give you good tips on how to buy palm oil products sustainably, while the Roundtable for Responsible Soy can let you know who the worst offenders are for soy.
Remember the lives at risk
While it’s easy to look at a burning sea of trees and see it as a loss to nature, it’s important to note that communities of people live within the Amazon Rainforest, and have done for centuries now. Its destruction spells loss for those who call it home. As the Brazilian government turned its back on stopping deforestation and the fires spread further, a group of activists from the indigenous communities within the rainforest flocked to Brasilia to protest. While the idea of losing the lungs of the earth is terrifying to those the world over, it’s worth remembering that this is happening on the doorsteps of people who rely on the rainforest to survive. To help them, look into the work of Amazon Frontlines. They’re an activist group fighting to stop oil drilling and agriculture tearing the area apart even further, who need funding to get their voices heard. With an army of altruistic figures behind the cause, we can help put a halt to this act of arson that affects us all.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.