The Amazon Rainforest is Burning and it is So Not Lit

There is a lack of media coverage on an issue that defines our generation: the burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. A hallmark of climate change, poor environmental regulation and the consequences of natural resource exploitation by corporations, the fires speak volumes about what we prioritize as a society. The truth is, natural resource destruction and climate change are far from popular news stories: they are much easier to ignore than to address. 

via NOAA

But the fires, which have been burning now for weeks, are far from the first telltale signs that we can no longer avoid action. They are the result of illegal deforestation by cattle farmers, an occurrence far from a rarity due to weakened conservation laws instituted under Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro. The rainforest land is cleared by burning and the fires rage uncontrolled, especially due to a dry season heightened by climate change. The international community is now accusing Bolsonaro of turning a blind eye to help corporate interests and allow the destruction of the Amazon and its indigenous communities. The smoke can be seen from space.

Wildfires in the Siberian taiga, located in Russia, only occurred a few short weeks ago at the start of August. Climate change brought an average temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius, causing the forest fire and threatening native wildlife. The ecosystem is another large carbon sinks. It is also characterized as a subarctic snow forest -- which shouldn't be at risk of fire. Iceland recently lost the Okjökull glacier in 2014 due to melting, as seen in this video by NASA. Coral bleaching has been occurring for years, weakening the efficacy of the largest carbon sinks on Earth: the oceans. All of these events are direct consequences of human neglect. 

via Igor Podgorny / Greenpeace

The Amazon is of extreme ecological importance, especially under the duress of climate change and high levels of carbon being released into our atmosphere causing greenhouse effects. The rainforest is home to unparalleled biodiversity: 2.5 million species of insect, 40 thousand species of plant species and over 2,000 birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles (Wikipedia). It is a habitat for approximately 10 percent of the known species on our planet, and yet, it's predicted we only know 1.3 million of an estimated 8.7 million species that exist (PLoS Biology). The trees in the Amazonia sequester around 20 percent of the world's carbon dioxide, sinking about 2.2 billion tons of carbon per year (Nature Communications). Should the rainforest continue to burn and the land be turned into cattle ranches, dire effects will be felt on a global scale.

The hashtag #AmazonRainforest is trending at #2 on Twitter, with outrage and concern from the public, scientists, and climate activists over the stakes of a fire in one of our most valuable terrestrial ecosystems. Posts are also tagged with #PrayForAmazonia, #PrayForAmazonas and even K-Pop band BTS fandom-led #ARMYHelpThePlanet.

via Twitter

via Twitter

What can you do to help the Amazon? First, educate yourself on the issue. Then, talk about it. Share the stories of exploitation and climate change on social media and in day-to-day conversation. Tag politicians like Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro in your posts and hold them accountable for weakening environmental protections and corporate regulations. It’s key to not to let these issues fall out of the news cycle. You can actively support NGOs that protect biodiversity like the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund. If you're looking for a subtle way to help, try changing your search engine to Ecosia, which plants trees for every search, or shopping at companies that give back. I recommend onetree, which plants trees in the Amazon in Peru to fight deforestation. The strongest change you can make is ending your support of the beef and palm oil industries that clear cut rainforests around the globe to turn a profit.

We only have one planet, and once a species is lost, it is lost forever. The next few years mark the point of no return. If the Amazon continues to burn it will never recover to its lush former glory. The species we've yet to identify will disappear without a trace. Worst of all, we will be one step closer to losing the fight against climate change -- and that's a fight we can't afford to lose. Not. any. single. one of us.