I’ve decided to write a blog post on the devastating wildfires raging out of control in the Amazon Rainforest. Under a different set of circumstances, I would probably be somewhere in Brazil right now. Instead, I’m sitting outside on a beautiful day in the shade at a coffee shop in Austin, Texas. I’m truly grateful to be living in one of the fastest growing cities in a first-world country! There’s so many stories I want to share of my adventures in South America for almost 2 years; mostly in the form of photographs. My original plan was to continue my travels up to Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall in the world, into Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Unfortunately, my professional camera had a major malfunction and I lost my only debit card. Therefore, I made the executive decision to fly from Buenos Aires to London and then to Austin. This was the cheapest flight I could find online. Over 22 hours in the air and my first time across the pond. Unfortunately, my layover was relatively short so I didn’t have sufficient time to explore London. I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities in the not-so-distant future. My goal in the next 5 years is to visit 55 more countries! Next destination is Bali, Indonesia in early 2020 to backpack through Southeast Asia for at least a year!
Which brings me to the original topic of this post — The Amazon Rainforest Is On Fire: What's Happening and How You Can Help. Yes, the cover photo is meant to be controversial and get people emotional. Why? Because controversy spreads like wildfire (pun intended). I’ve been researching this topic as passion project for the last few weeks and I want to make an effort to share my knowledge with others concerned about this growing environmental disaster. The Amazon Rainforest is burning out of control in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondonia, Para, and Mato Grosso. (see geographic map)
Wildfires are burning so intensely that the thick clouds of pollution are covering nearby cities in a dark haze. A few days ago at the time of publishing, the sun was eclipsed by smoke in São Paul over 2,000 miles away from the affected areas. On August 11, NASA noted that the fires were large enough that they could be spotted from space. Wildfires have always occurred in the Amazon, but they are sped up by hot, dry conditions. And some of the fires are started by those engaging in farming and logging. This tragic environmental disaster is gradually getting more and more media coverage. There was worldwide outcry when the Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. Back in April, Notre Dame Cathedral received billions in donations after it went on fire. Now, fires have been raging through the Amazon Rainforest for the past 3 weeks with very little action. Why is there not the same level of outrage for the fires destroying the #AmazonRainforest?
I will continue updating this post as the news story develops… (8/22/19)
According to a recent article in The New York Times,
“The National Institute for Space Research, which monitors fires using satellite images, reported on Wednesday that it had detected 39,194 fires this year in the world’s largest rain forest, a 77 percent increase from the same period in 2018.
The blazes are so large and widespread that smoke has wafted thousands of miles away to the Atlantic coast and São Paulo, the country’s most populous city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Why is this happening? Deforestation is increasing in the country, but the current government has reduced enforcement of protective laws. The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest has increased rapidly since the nation’s new far-right president and former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro took over. Laws passed under his executive power have significantly scaled back efforts to fight illegal logging, ranching and mining. In early August, the Brazilian president fired a well-respected physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão claiming that certain cabinet members were damaging the country’s image abroad by disclosing the rate at which the world’s largest tropical rainforest is dying. Carlos Nobre, a Brazilian scientist who is among the world’s foremost experts on climate change, called the firing a clear effort to “kill the messenger of bad news.” In today’s back-assward political landscape it’s getting easier to sweep news under the rug perpetuated by a deceptive media. Everything our political leads disagree with is written off as “Fake news.” Trump and Bolsonaro might as well partners in crime. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The new president seems to think his government owns rights to the rainforest, reporting to a European journalist, arrogantly proclaiming “The Amazon is ours, not yours.” While partially true that the Amazon is located within the Brazilian region, it’s also a huge spread through geographic areas of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. No one person or government entity owns the Amazon Rainforest. He also claimed the forest was “like a virgin that every pervert from the outside wants,” and therefore Brazilians should cut it down before others had the chance. I wouldn’t consider myself an avid environmentalist, but I think most rational-thinking people can agree that this is a ridiculous assertion! The Amazon Rainforest belongs to all of us and is regarded as vital in the fight against global warming due to its ability to absorb carbon from the air. It’s often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth,” as more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and 10% of the world’s known biodiversity is produced there. National Geographic says, “Protecting the Amazon is often touted as one of the most effective ways to mitigate the effect of climate change. The ecosystem absorbs millions of tons of carbon emissions every year. When those trees are cut or burned, they not only release the carbon they were storing, but a tool to absorb carbon emissions disappears.” That’s why rainforest conservation is so vitally important to the thriving symbiotic relationship of humans and the planet. Trees take in CO2 and release oxygen into the atmosphere, humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. It goes without saying that we rely on each other to survive!
Brazil’s portion of the Amazon lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first six months of this year, a 39 percent increase of the same period last year. Earlier this month, Brazil declared a state of emergency over the rising number of forest fires. So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected, marking an 83% increase from 2018 and the highest number on record since 2013. Experts say most of the fires are being caused by human activity, further exacerbating the immediate and long-term effects of global warming.
According to an article on Business Insider,
A dieback, in which climate change speeds up the loss of trees and changes the landscape, could start with just some of the Amazon's destruction, Business Insider's Aylin Woodward reported.
Losing 20% of Brazil's rainforest could result in such a feedback loop, which would dry trees, leaving them unable to absorb as much carbon and much more flammable and likely to spread fires, researchers from three British universities wrote in a post for The Conversation.
This tipping point could lead the Amazon to devolve into a barren, savannah-like landscape that not only fails to produce oxygen but could cause the release of the 140 billion tons of carbon stored in the rainforest into the atmosphere, the Rainforest Trust said in a 2017 post.
This all begs one very important question. Why aren’t we taking more extreme measures to actively curb the effects of global warming? Not from a political, environmental, or humanitarian perspective but rather a scientific and psychological one. The biggest reason is found within our own minds. Why can’t our brains process the devastating effects of climate change?
An interesting article in Time provides insight in this mystifying question:
As Jane McGonigal, the research director of the Institute for the Future, noted in a 2017 article for Slate, if you think about your own self, but in the future, you’ll see less activation in the MPFC than when you imagine your present self. The further out in time you imagine that self, the weaker that activation. As McGonigal writes: “Your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about.” And if we view our own selves in the future as virtual strangers, how much less do we care about the lives of generations yet to be born?
Economists have a name for this effect. It’s called the “social discount rate”, which quantifies how much value declines as we look into the future. It goes without saying that we humans are a self-centered bunch. We care so about our public image and reputation IRL (“in the real world”) and on social media, how we will be perceived by peers, coworkers, and acquaintances. My case in point, I’m currently sitting at a coffee shop on South Congress listening to a group of vain women talk about their next appointment for Botox facial injections. They are totally oblivious or their external surroundings, in the present moment and projecting into the future. How we choose to value future generations will help decide what we should do now about existential crises such as climate change, world hunger, affordable healthcare, clean drinking water in developing nations, homelessness, etc. This is especially true for climate change, which demands action in the present to avert devastation that will largely be felt in the future, perhaps after many of us now alive are dead. Because they don’t exist yet, these people of the future have no voice, no way to lobby for their needs. That is an awesome and terrible responsibility, but it’s one that we still seem happy to ignore.
Here’s a photo of the largest glacial melting event in recent history, a record-breaking 1.2 billion tons of iceberg melting in Greenland less than a month ago.
Pardon my naivety, but I’m intensely curious why the world’s multi-billionaires aren’t getting involved in the fight to curb the fires in the Amazon Rainforest. I want to believe they still have a conscience and care about the fate of our planet… I’m calling out the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos in particular, CEO of Amazon.com, valued at a mind-boggling $800 billion! It wouldn’t require much effort on his part to institute a program to donate even 1% of all proceeds to a non-profit organization like Amazon Watch or Rainforest Action Network. I think it would be a huge boost for his controversial public image! But then, I guess it’s not worth the time and effort to do a small part to save the environment by offering tax-deductible donations since Jeff Bezos currently pays $0 in federal income tax. In fact, Amazon is actually getting a federal tax refund of $129 million this year, due in part to a combination of tax credits and deductions.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to read this important article. It's unlikely you're one of the people who can actually help douse the blaze, but there are other ways you can aid in protecting the rainforest. Here’s a list of practical steps you can take to help reduce destruction of the rainforest without putting yourself in danger.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.” ―Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
How Can You Help?
Donate to Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.
Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres.
Reduce your paper and wood consumption. Double-check with Rainforest Alliance that what you're buying is considered rainforest-safe. You can also purchase rainforest-safe products from the alliance's site.
Reduce your beef intake. Beef found in processed products and fast-food burgers often comes from the rainforest.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada) works to protect the species in the Amazon and around the world.
Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 searches you run.
Explore Change.org petitions. A lawyer in Rio Branco has accumulated over 77,000 of his 150,000 signature goal to mobilize an investigation into the Amazonian fires.
Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends Indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower Indigenous peoples.
Amazon Conservation accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward. You can help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve Indigenous lands and more.
Contact your elected officials and make your voice heard.
Donate to One Tree Planted, which works to stop deforestation around the world and in the Amazon Rainforest. One Tree Planted will keep you updated on the Peru Project and the impact your trees are having on the community.
Sign Greenpeace's petition telling the Brazilian government to save the Amazon rainforest and protect the lands of indigenous and traditional communities.