Global warming’s catastrophic effects are on full display as Siberia, Alaska, and Brazil’s Amazon rainforest burn. The Amazon wildfires are particularly alarming as scientists have said that trees are the planet’s first line of defense against global warming. Due to deforestation, scientists estimate that we are near the tipping point where the Amazon can no longer function as a carbon sink. Brazil’s Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store. Cutting down trees in the rainforest produces 8% of net global emissions, more than the entire European Union.
But the rainforest has experienced a record number of fires this year, with 72,843 reported so far. While the state of Amazonas has declared an emergency (with the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia trending on social media this week), Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done little to fight the blaze, even as the haze from the fires blackened the sky hundreds of miles away in São Paulo. Meanwhile, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase in wildfires in the Amazon rainforest from the same period in 2018.
After reporting that number and an 88% increase in the deforestation rate in the Amazon, INPE’s director, Ricardo Galvão, was ousted from his job. According to the BBC, conservationists claim Bolsonaro has encouraged logging and farming in the Amazon, two activities that can lead to fires. “Starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” Alberto Setzer, an INPE researcher, told Reuters.
While there’s no way to stop the fires without hopping in a plane and flying to Brazil with a firehose, there are a few things you can do to help the rainforest, which may not be as satisfying as dousing flames but can have a long-lasting impact:
- Protect an acre of rainforest through the Rainforest Action Network.
- Help buy land in the rainforest through the Rainforest Trust.
- Support the rainforest’s indigenous populations with Amazon Watch.
- Reduce your paper and wood consumption or buy rainforest safe products through the Rainforest Alliance.
- Support arts, science, and other projects that raise awareness about the Amazon through the Amazon Aid Foundation.
- Help protect animals living in the jungle with WWF.
- Reduce your beef consumption. Rainforest beef is typically found in fast-food hamburgers or processed beef products.
- Make your voice heard by signing a petition.
- If you’re in a position to help protect the rainforest on a macroscale, Foreign Policy argues that one of the most powerful tools for protecting the region is to work with businesses rather than against them. This is particularly effective in the beef industry, because as Foreign Policy notes, domestic meat producers in Brazil work with international companies that “are committed to zero-carbon standards, in principle” and are more susceptible to public outcry than Bolsonaro. They suggest that trade, distribution, and financing deals that are dependent on protecting the rainforest and sustainability can be a boon to the planet and to Brazilians who depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods.