The international conversations have caught up to the raging fires in the Amazon rainforest, but how did it get to this stage and what can you do about it from Ireland?
You’ve seen the statistics by now – fires in the Amazon have increased 84% in 12 months and deforestation is up 88% this June than at the same time last year.
Yes, it’s climate change and the impact of temperature increases and less rainfall in the region. But global warming doesn’t move that fast and in the case of the huge Amazon fires, it has had a helping hand.
The president of Brazil is Jair Bolsonaro and you might remember a few headlines from 2018 calling him the “Brazilian Donald Trump”. Bolsonaro is a far-right politician who campaigned in the 2018 election on a pro-agricultural agenda, focusing on making beef farming more profitable over protecting the rainforest. Large-scale industrial farmers have been eager to deforest in order to create more land for beef farming, one of Brazil’s largest exports.
Related: The Amazon rainforest is burning: Why did we not know?
Even before he took office in January 2019, Bolsonaro backed out of the UN Climate Change Conference. Since then he has eradicated governmental departments focusing on climate change and issues surrounding deforestation.
The penalties for illegal deforestation have been slashed and convictions have dropped – which goes against the rising numbers in deforestation.
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Right now the Brazilian Amazon is burning at unprecedented rates and urgent action is needed to save this vital forest. “The out of control forest fires in Brazil are devastating, but not surprising. Extremely dry conditions and continual deforestation have led to an increase in fires in the region this year – up 70% compared to what we saw during the same period in 2018. These fires are destroying ecosystems, displacing wildlife, and jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions. Conserving the Amazon, and other areas like it, is essential to conserving our planet. As one of the world’s most iconic forests burns, it’s absolutely critical to consider how we are using this valuable resource and work to prevent the kind of disaster we are seeing today. That means deliberate conservation strategies that end deforestation and mitigate and adapt to climate change.” - Kerry Cesareo, senior vice president, forests at World Wildlife Fund
Remember the quote I mentioned earlier about the deforestation of the Amazon is 88% higher in June 2019 than it was in June 2018? That was a statistic released by Brazil's own space research agency. Bolsonaro fired the agency's director shortly afterwards, saying he disagreed with the analysis. Just to be clear on what this level of destruction really looks like, between July 2018 and June 2019, over 4,565 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest were deforested. That’s about the size of Co Kerry. In 11 months.
And we haven’t gotten to the forest fires yet.
You might remember the outrage expressed back in June by Irish beef farmers regarding a major new trade deal the EU had signed with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (known as the Mercusor agreement). One guess on what this deal will allow for. Yep, importing of Brazilian beef.
You have a political leader who is rolling back environmental protections on “the lungs of the world” to allow beef farmers greater land access and a historic trade deal with the EU that will inevitably significantly increase demand on Brazilian beef.
And now, we’ve reached the forest fires.
They’ve been raging for over 13 weeks, stretching so wide that NASA is reporting seeing the smoke from space. Bolsonaro has treated the crisis with disdain, yesterday claiming (without any evidence) that NGOs are starting the fires to make his government look bad.
Smoke from wildfires in the #AmazonRainforest spreads across several Brazilian states in this natural-color image taken by a @NASAEarth instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. Although it is fire season in Brazil, the number of fires may be record-setting: https://t.co/NVQrffzntr pic.twitter.com/4JTcBz9C8f
— NASA (@NASA) August 21, 2019
So what can you do?
Well for starters, donate. Groups like Rainforest Action Network and the WWF have been working in the region for decades, protecting the rainforest and the animals and indigenous tribes that live within it. Or donate to Rainforest Trust who have bought back 23 million acres of Amazon rainforest since 1988.
Sign petitions. A lawyer living in the heart of the Amazon has set up a petition to use public pressure to force an investigation into the fires and hold culprits responsible.
Greenpeace also has a petition running.
Related: Documentaries to watch if you want to get serious about sustainability
Think Global, Act Local
Reduce your beef consumption, particularly in cheap cuts of beef and fast food burgers. Brazilian beef is used by chains like McDonald's and Burger King. They began buying meat from the region in 2016 following a 30-year ban on buying meat there, with many saying that beef farming in the Amazonian region is not economically sustainable without deforestation.
Keep talking. It seems silly and totally disproportionate to the crisis at hand, but our greatest weapon is as a collective. Express outrage, share news, tweet and discuss. And then keep discussing. Public pressure must come in big numbers.
Contact your elected officials. Contact your county councillors, your TDs and your EU representatives to express your fears over the impact of a disappearing Amazon rainforest will have over the entire world.
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