Modern Western society has a fundamental problem with using shame to encourage people to do things en-masse. And don’t get me wrong, there are certainly instances where this is helpful. However, it can also be of great detriment to the cause one is trying to support.
When I first heard that the Amazon Rainforest was burning, I also learned that I was three weeks late in hearing about this. I instantly felt enraged. The environment has always been a hot button topic, but surely the Amazon is a big enough deal that it burning down is something everyone should be aware of and be on top of, especially three weeks in.
The problem is, this was the headline that first alerted me to the fires: “When Notre Dame was burning, the world’s media covered every moment of it and billionaires rushed to restore it. Right now the Amazon is burning, the lungs of our planet. It has been burning for 3 weeks now. No media coverage. No billionaires. #PrayforAmazonia.”
So here’s the thing: the Amazon burning down has absolutely nothing to do with the fire that damaged Notre Dame cathedral. Using this comparison is not only completely useless, but is going to have a detrimental effect on garnering attention for the Amazon.
The fact that people cared about Notre Dame is not a problem here. The fact that the Amazon burning down with little to no assistance is. There is no correlation between these two things. And when aiming to get someone’s attention for a cause in a social media news feed, calling them out with the typical headline of “why did you care about event x and not event z” is the quickest way to lose their attention. This has been proven in event after event, disaster after disaster. In addition to this, a majority of these headlines do nothing to actually alert everyone to what’s happening. They don’t fix the lack of awareness, they simply announce that a lack of awareness exists.
So instead of focusing on shame, we should all be focusing on educating.
Because the fact of the matter here remains: the Amazon is still burning, media coverage is only just beginning and it’s not yet nearly enough. For all of us on this planet.
Allow me to explain a little bit about why.
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, taking up 5.5 million square kilometres. Nine different countries lay claim to sections of the Amazon, the largest of which is Brazil, at 60%.
The Amazon contains approximately 390 billion trees, which include around 16,000 different types. What’s more, tropical rainforests, such as the Amazon, are composed of a type of climate that provides home to a larger variety of species than any other kind of climate, and rainforests in North and South America contain more varieties than similar forests in Africa and Asia. This means that the Amazon is home to a wider range of species—both plant and animal—than anywhere else in the world.
With this in mind, when the Amazon Rainforest is threatened, as it is by the current raging fires, all of these species of animals and plants are threatened as well. One in ten of the world’s species (the ones we’re aware of anyway) call the Amazon home. If the forest burns, and these living things go with it, that is not only a massive hit to the world, but it also deeply affects life as we—the human beings inhabiting this planet—know it. And not in a small way.
I will spare you the lecture on the effects of taking out whole pieces of the food chain, but I would like to focus a little more closely on the plants that exist within the Amazon.
Any creature on this planet that requires oxygen to live owes a debt of gratitude to trees. Let’s for a moment just do a bit of math. If trees are an important part of getting the oxygen we need to live, if they’re quite literally responsible for the air we breathe, and the Amazon, as established above, contains the world’s largest collection of trees in one place, then it stands to reason that the Amazon is important for more than just beauty and a wide range of critters.
For those of you that work best with numbers, let’s give this all a bit of perspective. The Amazon Rainforest and all of its plants and trees are responsible for 20% of the world’s oxygen. This is not a small thing that’s currently happening. If the Amazon burns down, animals will lose their home, tribes of Indigenous People will lose their home, we will lose whole species of plants and animals, global weather patterns will be affected, etc. We as inhabitants of this planet will suffer dramatically. But, above all else, it will severely impact our access to oxygen. The Amazon, the lungs of planet Earth, is burning, and she’s taking ⅕ of the air in all of our lungs with her.
And now, we must turn our focus to the source of this catastrophic destruction.
Deforestation means completely removing a forest, or a whole section of forest, in order to make room for land that will be used for developmental purposes, such as residential areas and commercial use. The Amazon has more or less always had a problem with deforestation. However, when I say this, I don’t mean for the same purposes as today, and I certainly don’t mean at the rapid rates that the forest is currently being taken down.
According to Mongabay, “For most of human history, deforestation in the Amazon was primarily the product of subsistence farmers who cut down trees to produce crops for their families and local consumption.” Essentially, local farmers took down a very small amount of trees on occasion in order to provide for their families. Nowadays, that is no longer the case. In the late 1970s, cutting down a couple of trees on occasion turned into clearcutting huge sections of forests for industrialization and, largely, cattle-ranching.
This means that the Amazon Rainforest, the same forest we established above as playing a very important part in the survival of all living beings on this planet, is being rapidly cut down for selfish, short-sighted reasons.
I’m sure at this point you’re wondering what exactly deforestation and cattle-ranching has to do with forest fires—something that greatly sucks, but is often an unfortunate natural occurrence. The thing is, the fires currently blazing in the Amazon are not an accident of nature.
Examples of corporate greed dominating over caring for the environment are scattered throughout human history. In my twenty-four years on this planet, I can think of dozens of examples, including the government ignoring laws and responsibilities towards critically endangered species and what’s going on with the Trans Mountain Pipeline on Canada’s West Coast.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the environment and what we as inhabitants of this planet should be doing to maintain it has always been a hot button topic. Most recently, political candidates are being heavily discouraged from talking about climate change in their campaigns because it is widely viewed as a detriment to their ability to be elected. Far too many people still believe that climate change either isn’t worth our action, or just isn’t real or pressing enough in the first place.
But what’s happening in the Amazon is perhaps the most alarming thing that’s happened to date. The main problem isn’t that too many people don’t know or don’t care about what’s happening. It’s that the source of the fires has far too much power.
Jair Bolsonaro is the current President of Brazil, and the person with the ability to arrange efforts to fight the fires. Despite this, he is doing shockingly little, and social media and news outlets are full of his excuses as to why. All of them are problematic at best.
The Prime Minister of France, Emmanuel Macron, has sent out a call to arms of sorts, to other world leaders, imploring them all to discuss the ongoing crisis with the Amazon, and how best to put an end to it, at the G7, which happened this past weekend, on August 24th through 26th. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his agreement to this, along with several other world leaders. The secretary for the United Nations, and the Bishops Conference for Latin America also spoke out about their concern and their desire to take action.
Bolsonaro’s response to this, though, was to essentially tell other countries to stop meddling in Brazil’s affairs. When relief efforts were offered and monetary donations were sent, he responded in a live broadcast, saying “these countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty.” Just before these comments, however, he dismissed those that called for him to act by saying that Brazil “did not have the resources” to fight the Amazon fires alone. Even still, he’s accused of having turned away relief efforts, and is doing little by way of having the fires dealt with himself.
This behaviour alone is suspicious, and becomes downright condemning when presented in combination with the accusations that Bolsonaro had a personal hand in starting the fires in the first place, in order to encourage cattle-ranching in newly cleared land.
The thing is, these accusations don’t just come from nowhere. They’re not the result of an angry group of people that simply want to make a world leader look bad. Bolsonaro’s political campaign is founded on a disregard for the environment, particularly in reference to the Amazon. He’s expressed support for miners, farmers, and loggers, people who aren’t themselves negative, but require space that he’s taking from the Amazon to give them.
As of Thursday, August 22nd, there were more than 2,500 active fires blazing throughout the Amazon. It is a certainty that a majority of, if not all, these fires were deliberately set; there simply exists no proof as of yet in terms of who set the fires.
An investigation is underway in Brazil, and Bolsonaro continues to point fingers while being fairly useless in regards to actively trying to stop the fires and save the forest. He has suggested many possible suspects, including local farmers, and environmental groups he claims set the fires in order to make him look bad after he cut their funding.
Proving that a government official, especially a world leader, has done something like this is not a small or easy undertaking, and it’s not likely that any one person or even a group of people will be able to do it. What is possible is putting enough scrutiny and pressure on said official so they are unable to continue what they’re doing.
Keeping that in mind, as well as all the information I’ve presented you here, I would like to wrap this up by giving you some suggestions of what you can do on an individual basis to help the Amazon Rainforest and all of its plant, animal, and human inhabitants. I’ve always been someone who has wanted to help world issues such as this one, but I never know quite what to do. As I began this article by saying, people are so quick to shame and blame those for what they are or aren’t doing, but serious, real tips on what each individual inhabitant of this world can do to solve these issues isn’t given nearly as often as it should be.
Talk About and Share What’s Happening:
The number one thing we need to do is circulate true information that not only informs everyone as to what’s happening and how to help, but calls attention to Bolsonaro’s actions. Whether or not he actually set the fires isn’t as important as making sure he deals with them and ensures they’re put out. The more attention we put on him, the harder it will be for him to refuse to do anything.
We’ve already proven with social media that we’re really good at calling attention to issues. The next step is making sure that the information put out there is accurate, backed up by research, and informative. Remember: don’t simply shame someone for not knowing what’s happening or not supporting a cause. Explain to them what the problem is, and why they should do something about it.
If you can do nothing else, you can at the very least share news articles and posts about what’s happening.
Support Organizations Helping in the Fight
There are a number of people and organizations that have been fighting the destruction of the Amazon for years now, including the tribes of Indigenous People that make a home out of the Amazon. In order to properly discuss these tribes and all of their contributions to the forest and their ways of life and the lawsuits they’ve filed (and won—which makes what’s happening even worse) in order to prevent deforestation of the Amazon, I would need a whole other post. They’ve been fighting tooth and nail in a battle they don’t deserve to lose.
Here is a list of organizations that aim to actively help fight the fires and fund further resistance to government and business attacks on the Amazon and the Indigenous People that live within it:
Survival International: This site fights alongside Indigenous People all over the world, including some of the tribes within the Amazon, in an effort to help amplify their voices, and to fight things such as the deforestation of the Amazon and the fires that are currently blazing.
Amazon Watch: Amazon Watch provides detailed, accurate information about what’s happening, who’s responsible, and what can be done to stop it. They list many ways one can take action to stop and prevent further destruction of the Amazon, discuss climate change, and protect indigenous people and their rights.
Rainforest Concern: They aim to protect Indigenous People who make their homes in rainforests, as well as protecting all the wildlife and animals that live in these places. Their main concern is rainforests and habitats that are being threatened. They have a major focus on the Amazon Rainforest.
SOS Amazonia: This is a site specifically for saving the Amazon from the current forest fires. It includes education on what’s happening and what widespread effects and consequences we’ll all be facing, as well as how to stop it.
Support Organizations that Plant Trees
The number one problem with deforestation is that it takes away massive amounts of trees, which are of vital importance to our ability to breathe clean air. There are a number of organizations that aim to plant trees to combat all the ones being taken down. Here are just a couple to start you off.
Ecosia: Ecosia is an Internet search engine that works just the same as the power players such as Google, and Bing, etc, but for every approximately every 45 searches, it plants a tree where a tree is most needed.
One Tree Planted: This is a reforestation project based in Peru. 60% of Peru is covered by the Amazon, and this project aims to help fight against the deforestation that’s happening, and build habitats back up for various birds, as well as other animals such as jaguars. They’re focused on a danger zone specifically in Peru, but they do actively work to replant trees that are part of sections of the Amazon.
I recognize that these days, petitions are a dime a dozen, and they often feel like they aren’t doing much. However, when you think about the first point here, which was to make as much noise and really call out Bolsonaro and other government officials with the power to do something, signing petitions goes hand-in-hand with this. Make your voice loud, and make your voice heard. We’re fighting for our lives right now.
Here are two petitions actively working to combat the Amazon forest fires:
Greenpeace: This petition will go straight to the Brazilian government.
Change: This petition asks authorities to further investigate the wildfires and who’s responsible, so as to put a stop to them.
These are just a small handful of things you can do to help stop the fires and save the Amazon. That being said, it’s always important to continue to do your own research, and make sure that the information you’re getting is complete and accurate. And as always, make sure you share as much as possible with those who may not know or understand what’s happening.
Individual voices can be far more powerful than you think, and in a world with such quick access to social media and news platforms, we can make our voices heard.
Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.