The lungs of our planet are on fire. Now is the time to step back, learn the facts and demand action.
The warnings have been there for decades. Climate scientists in the 1970s knew that the planet was facing an unprecedented threat — from ourselves.
Now, we’re seeing the very real and very visible results. The Amazon rainforest — which provides 20% of the earth’s oxygen — is burning.
Blame has been largely directed at Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose government has overseen what amounts to a war against the environment. But his politics alone have not got us to this point.
While this fire is within a nation’s borders, we must all take responsibility. But regardless, the effects will reach every one of us.
Before we look at what we can do, let’s talk about the facts.
The extent of the fires
Fires in Brazil’s rainforest are up 84% from 2018. In the Amazon, an area the size of Greater London is destroyed every three weeks.
While the fires continue to destroy habitats for wild animals — one in 10 of known species live in the Amazon — it’s important to consider the human cost.
Brazil’s indigenous population totals 900,000 people — around 0.4% of the population. It is estimated that around half of these people still live inside the Amazon rainforest.
Yes, people worldwide will feel the effects of the burning Amazon. But this is also home for so many indigenous people.
The Brazilian government’s role
The rise in fires are perhaps bolstered by Brazil’s far-right government. From January to August 23rd 2019, fines for environmental crimes dropped by almost a third compared to last year.
Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, has come under fire for his loosening of environmental protections. He has recently directed blame at NGOs for starting the fires — without any evidence at all.
He has also refused the help of the G7 group, which offered a (measly) sum of $20million to combat the fires.
The problem with beef
It’s thought that fires in the rainforest are deliberately set to clear the way for cattle farming, mining and other agricultural exploits.
Cattle ranching accounts for around 80% of deforestation in Amazon countries.
People also — rightly — point to soybean production as a cause of deforestation. But considering 67% of soy is grown to feed livestock, we should look again at the meat industry.
A weak response from G7
As we mentioned, the Brazilian government rejected the $20m offer of help from G7 countries. In a world where a burning Notre Dame attracts $835m of donations, this is not enough.
And Bolsonaro had a problem with the manner of the donation, not just the amount.
He attacked the group’s ‘colonial’ approach and cited France’s own struggles to fend off fires — notably that which engulfed Notre Dame.
Regardless of whether he’s right, this is not the time for political arguments. A global approach is the only way to protect what is ultimately the life force of our planet.
What can we do?
This is not just Brazil’s problem. The climate emergency will claim more rainforests, more glaciers and more coral reefs if we don’t take action.
Even those of us who are thousands of miles away can make a difference. Big changes are required, so let’s start showing companies and governments that we’re serious.
1. Reduce beef consumption — Beef is bad for the environment. That’s a fact. Look to reduce your meat intake and buy local if you buy at all.
2. Pressure your elected representatives — Environmental protection comes from the top, but politicians don’t get into power by accident. Pressure your local representatives and don’t vote for those who want fewer regulations.
3. Be an ethical consumer — Shop local and buy seasonal produce where possible. Look for Rainforest Alliance certification and don’t buy products that contain unsustainable palm oil.
4. Join an environmental group — Mobilising as a group is better than going alone. Join marches, raise awareness and demand action from those in power.
5. Talk about the climate emergency — The fires in the Amazon are not isolated incidents. The climate emergency demands that we take it seriously no matter where we are in the world. Talk to family and friends about sustainability and gather momentum for real change.