The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest. It is also currently burning at the highest rate since 2013. The Amazon spans over eight countries and covers 40% of South America, according to WWF, an area nearly two thirds the size of the US. The Amazon is also referred to as “the planet’s lungs” since it produces around 20% of the Earth’s oxygen.
In 2019 alone, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported 72,843 fires with more than half of these being in the Amazon region; more than one and a half football fields of the Amazon are being destroyed every minute of every day, says the INPE.
Widespread consensus attributes the burning of the Amazon to practice of burning land, often utilised by farmers and cattle ranchers, to make it readily usable. Christian Poirier, program director of non-profit Amazon Watch, says the majority of these fires are lit by humans, explaining that even during dry seasons, the Amazon cannot easily catch fire like naturally dry bushlands in Australia or California. Senior scientist at INPE, Alberto Setzer agrees with Poirier- believing 99% of the fires are caused by humans “either on purpose or by accident”.
The desire for more cattle farming land has been the main cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since the 1970s. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has said that the country’s government lacks the resources to put out the fires, despite rejecting a $22 million injection of money from G7, creating spiralling concern around the rainforest damage and the devastation to lands belonging to indigenous people.
How can you help?
It’s easy to feel hopeless in situations like this, the fire is thousands of miles away from the majority of us and we are resigned to passively watch it unfold on social media and the news. However, there are some things we can do to help. We can donate to charities that are helping reforest parts of the rainforest such as Rainforest Trust and Rainforest Alliance. The Rainforest Trust allows you to give donations to specific projects and the Rainforest Alliance says 100% of your donation will help stop deforestation in Brazil right now by working with local groups at the forefront.
When it comes to buying rainforest safe products, if they have the "Rainforest Alliance Certified™" seal, then the products have come from farms that have passed audits and met sustainability standards. If you’re buying tropical wood products, look for the label "Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)."
Living more sustainably makes a huge difference in terms of protecting our environment. As major forests decrease in size, carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are increasing in our atmosphere – but it is possible to slow this. Reducing our meat intake will be one of the biggest changes we can make to protect the forests, as they are being cut down for space for more cattle. However, things like taking trains / buses instead of flying somewhere, adjusting thermostats, investing in an electric or more fuel sufficient car will all help reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.