So many current issues in our world leave me shaking my head in shock and dismay. How did this happen? How could we let this happen? How we can help?
I don’t hold office in any governing bodies and I live 3,000 miles away from the Amazon Rainforest, so naturally I’ve been feeling pretty powerless and wondering what action I can take in the wake of the devastating fires.
As with any problem, the first step is to educate others.
Known as the “lungs of the planet,” the Amazon produces 20% of Earth’s oxygen and 1/5 of Earth’s fresh water. It is the biggest rainforest in the world and home to over 10 million species of animals, plants, and insects.
It’s important to note that fires are common in the rainforest every year during the dry season, i.e. July to October. These are caused by everything from lightning to dry conditions to accidental sparks from local farmers clearing crops.
But, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research, wildfire figures are at their highest rate since NISR began keeping records in 2013. We’re only halfway through the year and there have already been more than 75,000.
What makes this year so different? And why the increase?
For one thing, over 55,000 fires have been reported from the Pará region of the rainforest. This raises cause for concern as this region is the wettest area of the rainforest and rarely sees such large-scale fires.
Another distinction stems from the acceleration of deforestation in the rainforest over the past few years due to a rollback in environmental protections by South American governments. Much of the rain in the rainforest is generated by the ecosystem itself. If you get rid of the trees through clearing and logging, you get rid of the rain. And the drier it is, the more likely you are to get widespread wildfires. It’s a nightmarish cycle.
The rainforests and trees in our world cleanse our environments of carbon emissions. But, between the world’s worrisome carbon levels being the highest they’ve been in the last 800,000 years and deforestation rates taking an 88% jump in the Amazon region since just last year, our ecosystems can’t keep up with the levels of pollution we humans are causing.
Not only this, but the fires themselves have emitted smoke with over 228 megatonnes of carbon pollution this year alone, compounding our emissions problem and harming the health of those in and around the Amazon region.
With all this in mind, what can we all do to help?
1. Spread the word.
Earlier last week, I discovered the news of the Amazon fires not on the front page of every newspaper and not on the Twitter accounts of every major news network, but on a smaller environmental conservation site I follow.
It wasn’t until later this week, after the story sparked a media storm, that people even became aware of the problem. And that was nearly 4 weeks since the fires began. Think of all that could have been done in that amount of time.
Awareness, knowledge, and empathy are the key elements to saving the world. Arm yourself with facts and resources and start sharing.
2. Reduce your carbon footprint.
By reducing your carbon footprint you help keep our planet clean and put less strain on our natural treasures and resources. This is a great way, as an individual, to fight climate change.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Carpool and/or take public transportation. Drive eco-friendly cars. Walk or ride your bike. Combine all errands — such as grocery shopping and going to the bank — into one trip. Lessen your water and electricity usage. Purchase energy efficient appliances and LED lightbulbs. Seal and insulate your home and keep your thermostat moderate all year. Take fewer flights and take less air travel vacations. When flying, fly economy class. Plant trees. Invest in clean energy, i.e. solar, wind, water. Work in the eco-technology field. Promote eco-friendly innovation.
2. Stop buying products containing palm oils. Eat cleanly and sustainably.
Chips. Breads. Cereals. Vegan cheeses. Ice creams. Soaps. Chocolates.
So many foods and hygiene products are hiding a dirty secret. They contain palm oil.
As we all know, harvesting palm oil supports deforestation, wipes out rainforests, spews carbon into our atmosphere, displaces indigenous people, and kills orangutans and other animal species.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, nothing in my cabinets has palm oil listed as an ingredient. And you would be right. Palm oils have been given such a bad rep that many companies use alternative names for them now in their products. Here are just some:
- PKO — Palm Kernel Oil
- PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
- PHPKO — Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
- FP(K)O — Fractionated Palm Oil
- OPKO — Organic Palm Kernel Oil
- Ingredients containing the word palmitate
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut oil)
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (Can also be from ricinus/castor oil)
- Glyceryl Stearate
- Stearic Acid
- Steareth — 2
- Steareth — 20
Avoiding palm oil and these disguised ingredients doesn’t just help protect the rainforests; it will also help you to live a healthy clean lifestyle. Palm oil is high in saturated fat and LDL cholesterol, aka the “bad” cholesterol. Most of the products containing palm oil are packaged and processed items which you shouldn’t be putting into your body anyways. Rejecting palm oils and harmful chemicals helps our bodies live long, prevents food packaging waste, and reduces carbon emissions.
Clean and sustainable eating also means being more judicious with the types of clean eats you consume and choosing nourishment that, from farm to table, has had a minimal impact on the environment. Food production is one of the leading causes of carbon emissions, especially when it comes to meats and proteins.
For example, eating just one kilogram of beef is equivalent to driving 176 kilometers in a car. In addition, cattle ranching is the cause of 80% of deforestation in the Amazon due to ranchers needing pasture space.
Eat sustainably by ingesting more plant-based proteins and reducing or eliminating meat in your diet. Better for the environment and better for all our favorite creatures.
This organization protects the Amazon rainforest, specifically, defends the rights of its indigenous people, and works to fight climate change.
The Rainforest Trust protects threatened rainforest habitats and wildlife throughout the world. Since 1988, they have saved over 23 million acres and counting.
The Rainforest Alliance is a global leader in sustainability certification. This organization partners with local farmers and indigenous forest communities to develop strategies for protecting vulnerable landscapes. They are also heavily influential in developing the sustainability practices of global corporate businesses.
Brazilian lawyer, Gabriel Santos, started a petition on Change.org to spur an official inquiry into the origin and culprits responsible for increased fires in the region. Santos hopes that, by holding those responsible accountable, we will prevent fires and widespread environmental damage in the future.
7. Contact your elected officials
Call, email, or write your governing bodies to raise awareness and encourage them to help the Amazon in any way possible. If you live in the US, I would encourage you to reach out to our US State Department.
How do we fix our planet when we’re not the ones in control?
The best solution to that problem is to make good decisions about who holds the positions of power in our world. And the only way we can influence others and create that kind of change is to be vocal, cast our votes, and put all our support and campaigning energy behind candidates who seek neither greed, nor power, but rather honest candidates with clean voting records who don’t pander to extremists for votes and who aren’t swayed by kickbacks and corporate donations. Candidates who want to create positive change today and in the future. Candidates who understand the climate crisis and want to make bold and impactful policies to reverse and prevent environmental damage and make a greater tomorrow for our world.