6 Things We Need to Learn from Our Burning Amazon.
As you read these words, over 73,000 fires blaze through the once-pristine Amazon rainforest.
Many of these fires stem not from natural causes such as lightning strikes, but rather, human activity.
The result? A planet already in the grip of escalating climate change faces a new threat. Without the rainforest, much life on earth will perish. As always, those who remain voiceless suffer most. Animal and plant species disappear, their value to humankind lost forever. Indigenous people lose their homes and their lives. Humans desperately need to learn from these blazes now before it’s too late.
Why the Amazon Matters so Much
Many people fail to recognize the sheer extent of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon river basin alone occupies a space comparable in size to the entire lower continental United States and spans several countries.
You would think the Amazon rainforest’s large size alone would protect it. Think again. Remember the quote from Spiderman that goes, “With great power comes great responsibility?” The saying holds for this mighty region.
While scientists have debunked the widely distributed social media statistic that the Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, the burning Amazon proves troublesome globally nevertheless. Tropical rainforests produce 12% of the world’s oxygen, and the Amazon provides half of that.
The issue isn’t so much that the earth will run out of oxygen, it’s that carbon dioxide emissions from lack of vegetation will increase global warming significantly.
When many people think about climate change, they tend to think locally. If, for example, an individual experiences a severe winter, they’re more likely to consider global warming a myth. However, this line of thinking ignores the way the planet’s climate is interrelated across regions.
For instance, a mild arctic winter makes severe weather in the northeastern United States two to four times more likely. Warm arctic air pushes colder air down from the North Pole. When this colder air hits the jet stream, blizzards result. This phenomenon accounted for the significant snowfall the region experienced during the early spring of 2018.
Global warming also contributes to heatwaves. June of 2019 saw a deadly heatwave strike many European nations. At least 30,000 people perished as a result.
Deforestation Creates Problems Beyond Carbon Dioxide
Part of the reason the Amazon rainforest fires prove so troublesome is the way plants in the region create rainfall. Native plants exude moisture, which feeds into the atmosphere and falls again as rain. As the blazes continue, decreased rainfall will help them spread.
Additionally, over 50% of the animal and plant species on earth reside in tropical rainforests. The majority of medications in your bathroom cabinet stem from plant-based sources. Remember the movie “Medicine Man” featuring Sean Connery? It’s not entirely fictional — human greed could be destroying the cure for cancer as you read this.
Finally, the majority of nutrients in the soil reside in plants, not in the dirt. When trees burn, crops fail to replace these nutrients. This situation renders once-fertile farmland sterile in a few years unless farmers practice careful crop rotation techniques. Many farmers then turn to artificial fertilizers and pesticides, which can harm human health.
Human Activity Spurs Future, More Severe Fires
The fires in the Amazon region didn’t start by accident or through acts of God. The majority of them began when farmers, spurred by the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, set these lands afire to make room for agriculture.
Human behavior can also stop wildfires from spreading. We can combat wildfires by reducing our impact on climate change, but also through smaller, mindfulness-based activities like clearing brush and debris away from living areas. Through small human efforts like this, mitigation efforts saved homes during an inferno which consumed 284 other homes.
Every person really can make a difference, so keep an eye out for ways you can help, both before and after tragedy strikes.
Wildfires Can Act as a Form of Genocide
Sadly, the fires in the Amazon region spell genocide for the indigenous people who dwell within the forest.
While Amnesty International recently called for additional protections for indigenous people, those who live in the area now lack modern firefighting equipment. As a result, they flee on foot as their homes burn. Many do not make it out alive, and lack of population records hides the extent of the devastation.
Taking Positive Action Matters More Than Enacting Punishment
Nations with advanced military technology could take action to stop the blazes. However, this could spark a war. Additionally, many of the farmers starting the fires aren’t trying to destroy the rainforest, they’re trying to feed their families.
Over a third of the total gross domestic product in Brazil stems from agriculture. Much of this originates from cattle farming although coffee and soybeans also make up a large percentage of exports. Enforcing strict embargos, for example, could plunge millions into poverty.
How You Can Help the Amazon
What can you do to help the situation in the Amazon rainforest? Quite a bit. You can begin by making lifestyle changes and donating money to reputable organizations. You can also spread reliable information on social media regarding the situation.
Fully 65 to 70% of deforestation stems from raising cattle for slaughter. One way you can help the Amazon rainforest is by eating a primarily plant-based diet. You don’t need to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle — although doing so is beneficial in many ways — but do limit your consumption of red meat to no more than once or twice weekly.
Furthermore, reduce your consumption of paper products. Instead of opting for paper towels, invest in reusable microfiber cloths for cleaning purposes. Speak to your employer about telecommuting options to reduce your time spent on the road creating carbon emissions. Turn your thermostat down one degree in the winter and up a degree in the summer to further reduce your footprint.
You can also make donations to reputable charitable organizations to help extinguish the fires. Do your due diligence ahead of time. Like any natural disaster, scammers prey on the unwary, calling them soliciting donations.
Instead of replying to phone inquiries, request that telemarketers provide you with their website and address so you can make sure your good intentions don’t end up lining a miscreant’s pocket.
Protecting Our Planet Means Saving the Amazon
If the Amazon rainforest continues to burn, it will spur more intense climate change. By educating yourself and taking practical measures to reduce your carbon footprint, you can help save one of the planet’s most vital resources.