The Amazon Is Burning

What on earth can we do to help?

It shocked and saddened me to the core when I heard a few days ago about the huge fires raging in the Amazon rainforest. Not only had I heard nothing about it on the news, I was also totally at a loss as to what was causing it and what I could do.

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The extent of the fires is so great you can see them from space. Source: NASA, Aug 13

 

I know I’m not alone in this – as more and more people have been sharing the news across social media, I have seen the same comments time and time again. ‘This is so tragic, but what can I do to stop it?’. Whilst Notre Dame had to be saved by private billionaire donors, we’re lucky that each and every one of us can have a part to play in the preservation of the lungs of our world.

 

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Some facts

  • The Amazon rainforest is key to fighting climate change on our planet. It produces much of the world’s oxygen and acts as a carbon sink, and without it there is no way we can expect to fight climate change.
  • The fires are often started intentionally, in order to clear land for the growing of crops and grazing of cattle. Weaker enforcement by authorities mean that farmers have been able to organise ‘fire days‘ without legal consequence.

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates (Nepstad et al. 2008). Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle, and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying about one quarter of the global market.

  • Brazil has had more than 72,000 fires this year, an increase of 84% on this time last year. Brazil houses 60% of the Amazon rainforest.
  • The fires release both Carbon Dioxide (228 megatons so far this year) and Carbon Monoxide, a toxic gas, which is being carried beyond South America’s coastlines.
  • The deforestation rate in the Amazon has increased markedly since July, with areas the size of Manhattan being cleared daily, partially due to encouragement by the new far-right president, Bolsonaro.
  • If deforestation continues at its current rate, the trees will not be able to regrow, and much of what was forest will become savannah, with devastating effects on biodiversity and the future of the planet.

Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher with the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo, said the surge in deforestation was taking the rainforest closer to a tipping point at which swaths of the usually humid forest would become a dry savannah, with dire consequences for the climate, wildlife and forest dwellers.

Amazon burning

 

That’s depressing. So what can we do? 

Human-made fires are especially hard to stop, but there are some things we can do to help, both immediately and moving forward.

1. Donate to one of the below charities, all of which aim to raise awareness and actively protect the Amazon rainforest (edited list courtesy of cnet, which has more information, and CBS News).

The highlighted bullet points are charities that receive the highest ratings on Charity Navigator, a non-profit that evaluates financial health, transparency and accountability in charities – if you can only donate to one, make it one of these.

  • Donate to the Rainforest Foundation, which is committed to making sure donations made reaches projects such as supporting environmental defenders, indigenous advocacy organisations and deforestation monitoring.
  • Donate to Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.
  • Amazon Conservation Association accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward –– whether it’s planting trees, sponsoring education, buying a solar panel and preserving indigenous lands.
  • Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

2. Cut your beef consumption. Much of our processed meat, e.g. burger meat, is sourced from the Amazon, and Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef. Although many people argue that soy is a leading cause of deforestation, as much as 80% of this production is to feed farm animals, requiring 10x the amount of land than if we were to eat the soy directly. Avoiding soy from the rainforest still might not be a bad idea either, but giving up beef (at least non UK-raised beef) is your best course of action.

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Livestock farming is an important driver of deforestation, and not just in the Amazon

3. Use Ecosia instead of google as your preferred search engine

4. Sign petitions such as the below:

5. To ensure responsible logging, only buy wood products with the FSC logo, or buy second-hand. Much of the world’s trade in wood is from illegal logging.

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A deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho on Aug. 21. Image: Reuters

 

Please do share this far and wide if you can – we are not helpless, even where we are unable to douse the fires ourselves. Collective action is powerful – find me on Instagram and let me know what you’re doing to help!

EDIT: My friend Sophie Hellyer, who recently spent some time in the Amazon, mentioned two further organisations helping out on the ground, Instituto Socioambiental and Peoples of the ForestLocals that she worked with suggested these, but I have not vetted them. Woth checking out regardless!

 

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