The Amazon rainforest is on fire. As the news of the sheer devastation and magnitude of the flames sweep across media and social channels, the fact is—this is nothing new. The Brazilian Amazon—home to the most wondrous and diverse flora and fauna—has been burning for years.
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, nearly 40,000 fires have ravaged the Amazon this year alone. And while this is record-breaking—a reported 84 percent increase since last year—fires have blanketed the region for decades.
In 1989, a burning Amazon was depicted on the September cover of TIME Magazine with the headline: ‘Torching the Amazon,’ ‘Can the rainforest be saved?’. The edition’s accompanying piece detailed the far-reaching consequences if the Amazon was wholly destroyed. “It would be an incalculable catastrophe for the entire planet. . . . If the forests vanish, so will more than 1 million species—a significant part of earth’s biological diversity and genetic heritage. Moreover, the burning of the Amazon could have dramatic effects on global weather patterns. . . .“
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August 2019 is continuing an active Amazon fire season, with large and intense fires burning in the region. NASA satellites tracked actively burning fires across South America and captured images of smoke in the last week. So far, in 2019, the region is experiencing more fires, with more intense burns, than in recent years. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview, Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) data from NASA EOSDIS, and data from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED). #nasa #amazon #amazonia #fire #earth #satelliteimagery
There is heavy debate as to who or what is actually responsible for the massive fires, which are now so large and far-sweeping they can be seen from outer space. In response to the inferno, countless experts and environmentalists have criticized farmers who deliberately start fires in the Amazon to clear the land for grazing cattle. (This was a major focal point in TIME’s 1989 feature.)
On the other hand, Brazil’s Trump-like leader, President Jair Bolsonaro—whose 2018 presidential campaign included denials of climate change and promises to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, to open up protected lands to commercial exploitation, and to abolish Brazil’s environment ministry—blamed the environmentalists with unfounded claims, baselessly accusing NGOs of deliberately starting the fires in retaliation to budget cuts implemented under his administration and to hurt his image. Facing a wave of international criticism, Bolsonaro has since deployed Brazil’s military troops to combat the fires.
Known as the “lungs of the earth,” the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in oxygen production and carbon sequestration—but the incineration of the Amazon’s lush forests are undermining its ability to mitigate climate change. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported the Amazon fires “have led to a clear spike in carbon monoxide emissions as well as planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions,” thus accelerating global warming. Unfortunately, the patterns of forest fires and climate change are cyclic.
The fact the region is currently experiencing a dry spell has bolstered the growing blaze. As the planet’s temperatures continue to rise due to global warming, evidenced by the heat waves sweeping the globe, the ravenous flames are consuming more than just the Amazon. The raging fires have peppered the likes of Europe, the United States, and even the Arctic—causing further spikes in temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions and continuing the vicious cycle.
As the hashtag #PrayForTheAmazon trends across social media platforms—similar to the outpouring of messages following California’s Malibu and Woolsey fires—the stark reality is the Amazon needs more than just your thoughts and prayers. What the current mainstream media coverage lacks is the message that everything on the planet is connected and you can’t #PrayForTheAmazon while participating in the consumption cycle of livestock farming. The beautiful swaths of Amazon’s rainforest and the sundry species that they once ensconced, the picturesque Arctic, and the countless other terrains being engulfed by flames all need your help—and they need your help now.
What Can You Do?
1. Go Vegan – If you are a regular PD visitor, it’s highly likely you have already nixed animal products from your diet. Go one step further and urge your friends and family to refrain from eating meat and dairy in order to lower their carbon footprint and minimize deforestation in the Amazon.
2. Reduce Wood and Paper Consumption – Another way to reduce the amount of trees being cleared in the Amazon is to avoid buying new wood products. If you’re in need of furniture, shop for vintage or secondhand pieces. If you must buy something new, make sure it’s from a sustainable source and opt for pieces that are Forest Stewardship Council Certified.
3. Donate and Volunteer – Put simply, take action. If you have time and money to spare, get involved with a relevant nonprofit working to reduce illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon. Just make sure to do your homework and choose a charity that is truly transparent about how they are using their funds.