Over the past days social media erupted as influencers and news sites from around the western world (or at least my social media echo chamber) finally picked up on the wildfires that have been ravaging the Amazon rainforest for weeks. I held back on speaking out about it again (I had discussed it on my Instagram stories previously) because as with most social media trends, information is shared with little attention to detail and nuance.

Over the past few months, I have been observing (with a heavy heart) the state of affairs in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, the current president of Brazil, has been committing terrible crimes against the indigenous people of Brazil and incentivising accelerated destruction of the Amazon to take place, giving rise to the terrible wildfires we have seen (which are the worst they have been since 2013 when estimates began to be made).

It’s important to note that the occurrence of such wildfires in the Amazon is not new. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an emergency, so it is a good thing we are finally paying attention.

The wildfires of the past and today have had terrible effects on the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. The effects of the most recent fires have also gone beyond the forest alone. There was a blackout in Sao Paulo, flights were diverted in Rondônia and a state of emergency was to be declared in Amazonas where the state recorded a 335% increase in the number of fires in that area.

Whilst winter is the most likely time of the year for the spread of fire in Brazil, unlike in the Cerrado, there is no natural process that could cause wildfire in the Amazon. That means that all outbreaks of fire in the Amazon are caused by human action. These fires are mainly to “clear” (often indigenous) land after deforestation and to prepare it for agriculture for cattle. (Side note: in the Cerrado mass amounts of land have also been deforested for the purpose of growing soy)

It’s safe to say that the explosion in forest fire occurrences in the Amazon this year is directly associated with the intensification of deforestation in the region which has been going on for some time and has been accelerated since Bolsonaro came into power. It was recently discovered through the analysis of data that Bolsonaro’s policies are not just allowing but encouraging deforestation in Brazil.

According to INPE, deforestation in the Amazon grew 50% in 2019 so far, in comparison to the same period in 2018. This is a crime against the indigenous people of the Amazon. But it is also a crime against the whole of humanity, considering that the Amazon is aptly named the lungs of our planet. The deforestation and fires of the Amazon rainforest can turn this crucial carbon sink into a dangerous source of more carbon into the atmosphere. Something that, at a time of dangerous climate tipping points, we cannot afford.

Dr Joe Hanson, a science writer, reminds us in a twitter thread on this issue:

“the burning of Amazon is part of a long history of governments trying to occupy this wild space and displace indigenous peoples…Wildfires in the rainforest are nothing new. In my view, what we are seeing this year is only unique in its corruption and its urgency. We can not save our future if we can not save the Amazon.”

So, what can we do?

What can we possibly do as individuals to help save the Amazon and support the people defending it? I certainly don’t have all the answers and for some time I have pondered how best to make a difference around this. Here are some ideas.

  • Use your voice and talk about some of the root causes of the wildfires: colonialism, consumerism and greed!
  • Boycott Brazillian products like beef, sweets and confectionary if we can. These are some of the top imports into SA from Brazil.
  • Pressure the government to stop trade with Brazil in protest of Bolsonaro’s policies
  • If we have the means, support the rainforest’s indigenous populations through a local programme like Instituto Socioambiental or Amazon Watch
  • Buy only rainforest alliance certified products if we can
  • Sign a petition.

Importantly, we may not be able to make a big impact so far away but we can talk about and act on practical solutions to address the climate emergency locally. Everything is connected. In a few weeks time the news cycle may have moved on and the world will no longer be shocked by this particular event. But this event is one of many disturbing and dangerous occurrences which are threatening the future of all life on the this planet. The only time we have to act on the global emergency of climate, social and ecological injustice is now. It’s time to go beyond waking up to smell the smoke, we have to get up and do something!