As you likely have seen in the headlines, the Amazon Rainforest has been burning for weeks — and yes, it’s still burning as of today (editor’s note: this article was published on Oct. 1, 2019).
From trending hashtags on social media to headline news in publications like The New York Times and BBC, the terrifying headlines are everywhere. So what is exactly happening? And, perhaps even more pressing, what can we as individuals and travelers do to help?
Well, we are here to help walk you through it! Continue reading below for the breakdown of the Amazon rainforest fire updates, as well as nine things you can do to help.
WHAT IS GOING ON?
The Amazon Rainforest sprawls through 2.5 million square miles, which is roughly equivalent to two-thirds of continental Europe. Sixty percent of this forest is located in the vast country of Brazil. Since August 2019, thousands of fires have been raging through the Amazon Rainforest for almost two months now. The fires have destroyed thousands of Indigenous homes, have threatened millions of animal species, and have damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of Amazonian forest.
Though forest fires are relatively common in the Amazon during the driest months of July and August, experts do not believe that these fires can be attributed to naturally occurring events. This year, the vast majority of the over 40,000 fires that have raged through the Amazon have been directly attributed to to farmers and loggers who have been working to clear the land for logging and cattle raising. According to the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, farmers and cattle ranchers routinely cut down trees, dry them, then light them on fire to allow the ashes the fertilize the soil; however, due to the dryness of the land, as well as the extensive deforestation, the fires have gone out of control.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT ME?
The Amazon rainforest is commonly referred to as the “green lungs of the earth,” due to the forest’s ability to release oxygen and store carbon, which is a heat-trapping gas that is the major contributor to climate change. Therefore, the Amazon Rainforest plays a huge part in protecting the planet from the extensive climate crisis that it is facing today. if enough of the forest is destroyed (and cannot be restored), the entire area will become a savanna; this change would not only cause the death of millions of plant and animal species that rely on the forest to survive, but it will also store less carbon, which will speed up climate change even more. This climate crisis will, of course, affect us all, by leading to raised sea levels, more frequent and violent storms, the death and displacement of millions of people and animal species, and the destruction of ecological systems worldwide.
NINE THINGS WE CAN DO TO HELP
Governmental, systemic, and policy change are going to be essential to halting the climate crisis. However, as individuals, there are many things we can do to aid the rainforest and help the environment, as well! Over time, the more individuals who join in the efforts, the more impact we can have!
1. Buy LESS; but, when you buy, choose environmentally-friendly products.
It’s best to reduce our consumption overall, but, it’s also important that, when we do make purchases, we choose companies that donate to environmental causes.
2. Reduce your paper and wood consumption.
One of the leading causes of the Amazonian forest fires is deforestation. Logging companies are actively cutting down important old-growth forests to create our paper and wood products. There are several things we can do to reduce paper and wood consumption: take reusable cloth bags to the grocery store; purchase bamboo or recycled toilet paper; use cloth napkins; and reduce your use of single-use paper cups, plates, and paper towels.
3. Avoid products that contain palm oil!
This type of oil is found in most processed foods and items in the United States. However, palm oil is a key contributor to the deforestation of the rainforest. Read your food and product labels carefully, and choose more sustainable alternatives.
4. Hold governments and businesses responsible!
Educate yourself on your local and state representatives (as well as on the business practices of local or popular companies), and, if you feel that their beliefs and policies are environmentally irresponsible, write them a letter or call their office line and insist on change! Your voice makes a difference!
5. Donate to organizations that are actively working to protect the rainforest and Indigenous communities.
6. Protect an acre of land through the Rainforest Action Network.
The RAN is a reputable, hard-hitting organization that provides an option for individuals to “adopt” an acre of land in the Amazon to protect it from deforestation and destruction.
7. Attend a demonstration.
There are demonstrations going on all over the world that are sending a message to governments and corporations that the climate and the rainforest are topics that this generation cares about — we can make a change!
8. Cut back on your beef consumption.
Rainforest beef is generally found in fast-food restaurants or other processed beef products. A large part of the rainforest has been cleared to make room for cattle ranchers who export much of their beef to the U.S. Reducing our consumption of beef will reduce the demand for it, which will then cut back on the pressure for cattle ranchers to clear rainforest land to make room for their cattle.
Or, when you do consume beef, make sure it is local, grass-fed beef!
9. Reduce your carbon footprint (and offset the rest!).
While the Amazon Rainforest is a major carbon reservoir, it is also at great risk from climate change. According to the Rainforest Foundation, there are numerous small things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint: drive less, take public transportation, adjust your home thermostat, and avoid unnecessary air travel.
Yet, it is also important to offset what you cannot reduce: WREN, a Rainforest Foundation partner, will help you reduce your carbon footprint when you subscribe to one of their proven carbon offset projects. You can even calculate your own carbon footprint through Carbonfund.org and donate to renewable energy projects that will serve to store the carbon that you are emitting, whether it’s for a specific flight or trip, or for your daily life.
Do you have any other ideas on how we can save the rainforest? Share them with us in the comments below!