In South America, the Amazon rainforest is burning; the sky in São Paulo, over a thousand miles away, has gone dark. The Brazilian Space Research Center is reporting that there are 80 percent more fires this year than there were in the same period in 2018, according to The Guardian.
Reuters reported that fires happen more frequently when conditions are dry, but that many are also intentionally set by ranchers looking to clear land for cattle. They have been burning for about three weeks. Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who, as Business Insider reported, has said he wants to develop the rainforest, has seemed to fail to respond to the fires.
The world’s largest rainforest is a vital carbon store, and scientists have warned that if the Amazon continues to lose trees, it could degrade into a savannah, meaning its capacity to absorb carbon would be sharply reduced. Less trees means more carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming and irreversible climate change.
While facing the imminent destruction of one of the world’s most important climate-protecting resources, what can you do? First, don’t lose hope. Second, pursue one or more of the following steps:
1. Keep spreading the word
The more people who know what’s going on, the more powerful the pressure put on the Brazilian government to address the fires. #PrayforAmazonas has been used across social media to share updates and photos, so look there (but make sure you check the credibility of the outlet).
2. Do a beef boycott
Cattle ranchers clearing land may have started the fire, and not supporting the beef industry is a good way to send a message to Brazil, the largest exporter of beef in the world. Go veggie for a while or stick to other types of meat.
3. Cut down on paper and wood products.
This kind of boycott may have less immediate effect, but since logging contributes to much of the deforestation of the Amazon, cutting down on paper can help. Switch your subscriptions to digital-only, go a month without printing anything; and use real towels, dishes, and napkins instead of paper options.
4. Support charities protecting the region and supporting the indigenous people who live there
You can protect an acre of rainforest through the Rainforest Action Network, or support emergency fire response efforts by charities. You may have seen Rainforest Alliance’s Instagram campaign — they’re giving all donations made with this link (same as in their IG bio) to local Brazilian organizations fighting to protect the Amazon and to support indigenous people, some of whom have lost their farms and homes in the fires. Amazon Watch is another organization working to defend indigenous rights in the region.
5. Support ongoing efforts to protect the climate both abroad and at home
The fires in the Amazon are a big deal, but so are the fires raging right now in Alaska. So are the fires that burned almost two million acres in California last year. So are all the other natural disasters — be they more heat waves, stronger rainstorms, bigger hurricanes, more destructive floods — that we’ve seen in increasing numbers over the last decade. And because climate events in one part of the globe can have long-reaching effects for the rest of the world, supporting climate-protecting action wherever you live matters. If you’re in the States, you can start by calling your senators at 202-224-3121 (give their name to the switchboard to be transferred) and your representatives at 202-225-3121 and asking them to support climate legislation and funding.
If the Amazon keeps burning and keeps losing trees, our climate is in even more trouble than it already was, making it even more important that we protect it with everything we can: our wallets, our choices, and most importantly, our voices.
September 24, 2019 — Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the most current places to donate.