Videos and images of fires raging across the Amazon, which can be seen from space, have been spreading across the internet, but what exactly is happening? The Amazon rainforest has experienced a record-setting number of fires this year — with nearly 73,000 fires in 2019 so far, an 83% increase from the same time last year.
Environmentalists find these numbers concerning because the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, plays a crucial role in tempering the effects of global warming by absorbing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. And it is more concerning because human activity has led to this massive increase in fires and the destruction of the forests.
So, how can you help without trekking to South America to fight the blaze with your own hands? Ahead, we outline several ways you can help today.
Hold politicians and corporations accountable.
While world leaders like President Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro have questioned the reality of climate change, it is becoming an increasingly urgent issue, with researchers saying it will pose an “existential threat” by 2050. You can contact your elected officials and encourage them to take action on climate change, or pressure them to (at the very least) use their platforms to raise awareness.
Bolsonaro has been publicly dismissive about concerns over the rainforest fires. As the far-right Brazilian president has encouraged logging and farming in the rainforest, deforestation of the Amazon has increased by 20% in the past year. (Deforestation causes 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.)
Thus, it is important to look into the practices of companies with commercial ties to the Amazon. A recent report from Amazon Watch, a nonprofit working to protect the rainforest, identified companies and investors with links to illegal deforestation in Brazil. "If European and North American financiers and commodities buyers cut ties with Brazilian bad actors, they could use their market power to send a signal to Brazil's leadership that the global community will not tolerate the policies of the new administration," Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch, the report’s lead author, said in a statement.
Even if you are not on the board of one of these companies, as a consumer, you can contact the business, express your concern, organize a boycott, or spend your money elsewhere.
Sign a petition.
Sometimes collective action works, so if you want to add to a larger show of force, sign a petition. A lawyer from Rio Branco, Brazil has already gotten hundreds of thousands of signatures on his Change.org petition, and Greenpeace has started a petition, as well.
Donate to organizations working to protect the Amazon.
Amazon Aid Foundation: This organization raises awareness on the need to preserve the Amazon through the arts, science, and other projects.
Amazon Conservation Association: This nonprofit organization has worked to protect the western Amazon for nearly 20 years, and it tells you exactly what your donation will go toward: planting trees, protecting animals’ habitats, supporting research, etc.
Amazon Conservation Team: This group partners with indigenous and local communities to protect tropical forests, fight climate change, and “strengthen traditional culture.”
Amazon Watch: Founded over 20 years ago, this nonprofit was created to protect the rainforest and defend indigenous populations in the Amazon Basin. It partners with other indigenous and environmental groups to campaign for human rights, corporate accountability, and preservation of the Amazon’s ecosystems.
Rainforest Foundation US: The organization has protected the rainforests of Central and South America for 30 years, by working on the ground to secure land rights for indigenous communities.
Rainforest Trust: This organization takes donations to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, it has saved more than 23 million acres of rainforest.
Rainforest Action Network: You can donate to the Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the rainforest. The organization works to protect forests, fight climate change, and uphold human rights.
Reduce your own consumption.
While some argue against the belief that personal responsibility can make a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change, experts say there is, actually, a lot individuals can do to reduce our carbon footprint.
You can reduce your paper and wood consumption, as these commercial products contribute to deforestation — as do cattle, soybeans, and palm oil. Thus, reducing your intake of those food products can also make a small impact. (P.S. palm oil is in everything!) Also, rainforest beef is often used in fast food and processed beef products, which environmental activists have fought against for decades.
Check with the Rainforest Alliance to make sure you’re buying forest-safe, sustainable products. You can even purchase certified eco-friendly products directly from its website.
Bonus: When you search for environmentally friendly products to buy, use Ecosia.org as your search engine, which plants a tree for every 45 searches. Ecosia has committed to planting 1 million trees in Brazil over the span of six months.
This story was updated on August 23, 2019.