The Amazon rain forest has been ravaged by forest fires this year. While fires occur every year in the Amazon, this year the fires seem to have caught the attention of Western media, largely due to these fires not being started naturally, but the result of deliberate actions to clear land for agricultural use.
The largest rain forest in the world, the Amazon basin covers around 40% of South America and is where hundreds of aboriginal groups live. Also home to millions of species (equivalent to 1 in 10 known species worldwide) including jaguars, monkeys, and pink river dolphins, it is one of the most bio diverse places on the planet. On top of the incredible biodiversity within the Amazon, the Amazon produces approximately one fifth of the worlds organically produced oxygen annually and is a critical store of carbon for the planet.
The Amazon is vital, not only for the survival of the species and people who live within it, but for the entire planet. The nickname, ‘lungs of the Planet’ is apt, and yet many don’t appear to be concerned. The Brazilian president is demanding an apology before accepting international aid to fight the fires, and many developed nations are neglecting to acknowledge the major roll that places like Canada, the USA, and the EU play in deforestation globally. World leaders are showing an alarming apathy toward this crisis, and the larger climate crisis that these fires represent.
So what can be done? The acts of one may be small on their own, but millions of small acts can have a great impact. Here is just a short list of some of the things ordinary people can do to help save the Amazon and beyond.
- Avoid processed and fast food meats: Major corporations sometimes use cheap, Amazonian beef for processed meats ranging from hot dogs, to hamburger patties, by boycotting these processed meats it shows the Brazilian government that there is more money in protecting the Amazon than there is in destroying it. Deforestation due to demand for beef accounts for over half of all deforestation in the Amazon. While going vegetarian or vegan are the best options environmentally, it goes a long way to simply eat local meat. If the meat isn’t local (and especially if it comes from Brazil) or it isn’t stated where it’s from, don’t buy or eat it.
- Don’t purchase products containing palm oil: The demand for palm oil is a major cause of deforestation in rain forests in South America as well as Asia. Refusing to purchase any products containing palm oil is one of the best ways to help protect the planet’s rain forests because it gets to the source of the problem: demand for one of the largest causes of deforestation globally.
- Soy, sugar and bananas: Are just some of the other agricultural drives for deforestation. Avoid buying them when possible, and if you must, try to buy them from companies that are certified by the Rainforest Alliance to reduce personal contributions to deforestation.
- Write to government: Send a letter to local representatives and party leaders and let them know that their constituents are concerned with what the government is permitting. Governments can’t be expected to act on behalf of their voters properly if their voters aren’t telling them directly what they want done.
- Sign and share petitions: Petitions by trustworthy organizations help by gathering the voices of people who may not be heard otherwise. If enough people sign a petition, these groups can then present the petitions to governments and organizations with the voices of thousands of concerned individuals.
- Share with others: It is crucial to not only share about the fires themselves, but share about how people and countries are contributing to them. The attention currently being brought deforestation is good, but much of the blame is being placed on a government that is only destroying forests because there is an international demand for products. It is important to not only focus on putting out the fires, but to focus on solving the root of the problem. Governments like France’s and Canada’s are putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound by giving money and resources to fight the fires (which is still good), when they could be finding ways to ensure that products linked to deforestation aren’t coming into their countries.
If we are to protect the rain forests, then we all need to take more responsibility for what we are contributing to, and turn that into daily actions that reduce our negative impact on the world around us. The steps outlined here are just the start, if we are to protect the Amazon and other ecosystems globally, we need to constantly be questioning the daily habits we overlook and learn about how our actions impact the world. This is not to be done just for the rain forest, but for current and future generations so that they will have to opportunity to discover the beauty of the natural world from more than just books and videos depicting extinct species.