Amazon Rainforest Fires: How You can Help

Amazon Burning

The Amazon Rainforest is burning. You might be thinking, “How I can help from half a world away?” Read on to understand that you can. The Amazon supports all life on Earth. It regulates climate, brims with biodiversity, and is a living, breathing system with inherent value. The Amazon is home to some of the planet’s most vulnerable indigenous peoples. “Life as we know it” depends on the Amazon’s survival, and our everyday choices impact this critical ecosystem.

Amazon Rainforest Fires. Children in river escaping fire.

Amazon Fire Image by Pixundfertig on Pixabay

Fire in the Amazon

Around 40,000 fires have been reported from the Brazilian Amazon so far this year, which is a large increase from 2018. Unlike prairies and some forested ecosystems, fires are not a “natural” phenomenon in the Amazon Rainforest. The plants and animals are not adapted to fire and can’t easily regenerate after a blaze. The satellite image below shows fires burning throughout the Amazon in August 2019.

Amazon Rainforest Fires. NASA map of forest fires.

Satellite image of fires burning in the Amazon Rainforest. NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens

How Tropical Rainforests Regulate Climate and Water Cycles

Trees release water vapor into the air and trap moisture within the canopy. This keeps temperatures cooler and makes water available to the soil and atmosphere. This water recycling process drives the flow and distribution of fresh water around the planet. Forests also absorb and store large amounts of CO2 and help create the oxygen-rich atmosphere that much of life depends on.

Amazon Rainforest Fires. Tropical forests regulate climate and water cycles.

Trees absorb sunlight and CO2. Transpiration occurs as water flows up from soil through the trees and is released as water vapor. This cools the air above the forest and leads to condensation of the water vapor into clouds and rain. This life-driven cycling of water helps regulate local and regional temperatures. In addition, flows of groundwater and atmospheric water are strongly affected by the forest, and these flows affect wind and water circulation and global temperatures. Graphic by Anne Altor, One Earth Body Care

 

When rainforests burn, the bare soil that’s left blows and washes away, and local and global hydrological cycles are disrupted.

Amazon Rainforest Fires, Deforestation disrupts carbon and water cycles and leads to soil erosion

Deforestation disrupts carbon and water cycles. Trees take up and store huge amounts of carbon and add carbon to soil. Soil exposed by deforestation and fire loses water and carbon. The reduced transpiration by plants means there is less rainfall, and circulation of groundwater and atmospheric water is impaired. These changes affect global climate and weather patterns. Image by Anne Altor, One Earth Body Care

Why is the Amazon Burning?

Farmers, ranchers and loggers set fires in the Amazon to remove trees and other vegetation and create pastureland. Logged areas burn easily, and fires can spread from cleared areas into the forest. Why this is happening:

🔥 Logging and global agribusiness.

Land that has been “cleared” of trees is valued much higher than forest for short-term economic gain because it can be planted with crops or filled with cattle. It is more profitable for farmers to cut and burn trees than to leave the forest alone. Many fires are started by farmers clearing land for cash. A destructive cycle of logging and burning is used to “prepare” the land for crops and cattle. Soybeans and beef are major crops grown on destroyed forestland. Palm oil is a major threat to the Amazon as well.

🔥 Policy of exploitation.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has opened an assault on Brazil’s indigenous peoples and their territories in the Amazon. His stated goal is to “integrate” indigenous people into mainstream culture and open the forest to logging, mining and agriculture. His policies and invitations to exploit the forest and drive out indigenous people have led to a more than 80% increase in deforestation in the last year. The fires are concentrated in recently deforested areas.

How is the world responding to the Amazon Rainforest fires?

Bolsonaro has taken a defiant attitude toward global concerns over the fires. He’s criticized international distress as a colonialist attitude and unwelcome effort to dictate how Brazil should manage its own “resources.” On Aug. 22, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted:

Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!

During the August Summit in France, the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States) pledged $20 million to help fight the fires. They also pledged nonspecific support for reforestation efforts. It isn’t clear how far the money would go even if it was a straightforward process to fight dispersed and remote fires, which it isn’t. However, the pledge does show that there’s international concern and interest in helping. [Note: Donald Trump skipped the session on the Amazon fires and finding solutions to climate change]. Because of the recent surge in deforestation in Brazil, Ireland and France have threatened not to ratify the Mercosur free trade agreement. This agreement would facilitate trade between the EU and 5 South American nations including Brazil. Ireland and France are making noise to show they don’t support Bolsonaro’s destructive policies.

How You can Help

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of global crises. But the Amazon is critical to all life on Earth, and our actions matter. Here are some ways you can help:

🌳 Learn about the problem and support organizations working on the frontlines. Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network are excellent for up to date news on the Amazon. These organizations are working to save the forest and to help the indigenous communities living there.

🌳 Cut back on meat and dairy, and look for soy products produced in the U.S. Soybeans are a huge driver of deforestation in the Amazon and other tropical ecosystems. The majority of deforestation-based soy goes into animal feed for meat and dairy production.

🌳Avoid palm oil. Read the labels of every food and body care product you buy. More than half of them contain this conflict ingredient. Palm oil is a major driver of global deforestation. So-called “sustainable palm oil” is not a solution.

🌳 Sign this petition demanding that Black Rock, “the world’s largest investment company,” divest from Brazilian agribusiness.

🌳 If you have financial investments, know where your money is. Learn about responsible investing and make sure your funds are supporting companies working for good rather than driving global exploitation. Here are a couple places to start:
🌱 Greening Private Finance
🌱 What is ESG?

🌳 Check out this collection of images from The Atlantic for a picture of what’s happening on the ground. The images help make it real and may inspire you to act.

Rather than despair, let’s get in action!

The Amazon Rainforest holds a large percentage of Earth’s biodiversity. It regulates the global climate and contains a significant proportion of the Earth’s species. Our everyday actions have direct repercussions for the Amazon. From the food we eat to the wood and paper products we use, the companies we support and investments we make, we are connected to the rainforest. Let’s make sure those connections are healthy and supportive as much as we can rather than extractive and destructive. How are you taking action? What have you learned about the Amazon recently? Share your comments below!

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