Dede’s Green Scene: The Amazon is on Fire and Celebrities are Spreading the Word by Dede Tabak, September 05 2019, 0 Comments

What do Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ariana Grande, Jaden Smith and Madonna all have in common? They’re some of the celebrities and activists using their social media platforms to raise awareness of the wildfires currently raging in the world’s largest rainforest—the Amazon. Over the last three weeks, wildfires spread across Brazil and adjoining Amazon countries, adding to the staggering 72,843 fires already detected so far this year—an 83% increase over the same period in 2018, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). More than 1,330 square miles of the Amazon rainforest have been lost since January, with 870 square miles of forest—more than half the size of Rhode Island—destroyed in July alone.

“Farmers and ranchers have long used fire to clear land and are likely behind the unusually large number of fires burning in the Amazon today,” said Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch. Concerns of deforestation in the region have grown since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January of this year. As Leonardo DiCaprio stated on Instagram about the raging fires, “Scientists and conservationists attribute the accelerating deforestation to President Jair Bolsonaro, who issued an open invitation to loggers and farmers to clear the land after taking office in January.”

Bolsonaro was vocal about his anti-environmental policies before he took office and has repeatedly mentioned that environmental protections hindered progress. His presidential campaign promised to open up the Amazon to agriculture and mining interests. Since taking office, he has scaled back environmental protections and the enforcement of environmental laws. He made dramatic cuts in funding for Brazil’s science and communication ministries. And he has proposed to decrease the size of protected areas and promote development on Indigenous reserves.

Bolsonaro has both suggested the fires were caused by warm weather and accused non-governmental organizations of starting the fires themselves to damage his government’s image and reputation. Earlier this week, he claimed the government lacked the resources to fight the fires, but with global criticism for Bolsonaro growing, he has now said the military will assist with putting the fires out.

The Amazon is 2.12 million square miles across Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other countries, and is home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people. The forest absorbs millions of tons of carbon emissions every year, making it a crucial part of regulating global warming. This is why many call the Amazon “the lungs of our planet”. When trees are cut or burned (as they are by logging companies and cattle ranchers), the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.

As the crisis receives increased international attention, world leaders are starting to take notice. French President Emmanuel Macron made this crisis a top priority at the G7 Summit that took place the weekend of August 24th in Europe (and includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States). Some of the attending countries have said they would block a trade deal between the European Union and Brazil's economic and political bloc and add additional sanctions unless the country takes action and agrees to make the protection of the Amazon a priority.

Leonardo DiCaprio just announced that his organization, Earth Alliance, has created an emergency Amazon Forest Fund in response to this crisis. The fund has pledged $5 million to the local organizations and indigenous communities who are fighting this crisis. What else can we do to take action? You can donate to the following organizations:

  • Amazon Conservation Team fights climate change, protects the Amazon, and empowers indigenous peoples
  • Amazon Conservation Association accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward—whether it's planting trees, sponsoring education, buying a solar panel or preserving indigenous lands
  • Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. The organization has saved over 23 million acres and counting since 1988
  • The Rainforest Foundation—committed to making sure donations reach projects such as supporting environmental defenders, indigenous advocacy organizations and deforestation monitoring
  • B Strong is a disaster relief organization created by Bethenny Frankel that provides real-time emergency assistance to individuals and their families in crisis. Frankel has already indicated that she plans to deliver aid to the indigenous people and animals who are suffering from the fires

Another important way you can take action, as DiCaprio stated in his Instagram post on August 21st, 2019, is:

“Be a conscious consumer, taking care to support companies committed to responsible supply chains. Eliminate or reduce consumption of beef: cattle ranching is one of the primary drivers of Amazon deforestation.”

The Amazon is one of the biggest cattle ranching regions in the world. Although logging and other activities also drive deforestation in the Amazon, animal agriculture is the prominent cause—by far. According to The World Bank, cattle ranching occupies 80% of all converted lands in the Amazon rainforest. In addition to cattle ranching, the majority of soy, timber, and biofuels threatens the destruction of the Amazon. When you can, look at product labels and try to make sure they don’t come from deforested land and are made with more sustainable methods.

The damage done to the Amazon is irreversible, but we can work to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future. We need to have laws in place to protect our precious planet so we need to vote for leaders who understand the urgency of our climate crisis and are willing to take strong action to fight climate change and fight the lobbyists who threaten our planet everyday. 

As Madonna said, "This is a devastation to Brazil—to the indigenous people who live there and the plant and animal species that make this the most important bio-diverse Forest!!! President Bolsonaro please change your policies and help not only your country but the entire planet. No economic development is more important than protecting this land."