The Rainforests are Burning. Does Anyone Care?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the devastating wildfires that have been raging throughout the world—including the ones occurring in our most precious natural resource, the rainforests.
Rainforests are an integral part of the global ecosystem, responsible for generating 20% of the world’s oxygen. The Amazon rainforest alone influences weather patterns all the way up to the United States. When the rainforests are on fire, we have a serious problem.
The damage is staggering
How bad is the damage? In short:
- More than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That breaks down to more than 150 acres lost every single minute, every day, totaling about 78 million acres lost every year.
- More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone.
- Even more of the rainforest is critically threatened as destruction from wildfires and other disasters (natural and man-made) continue.
- The Amazon rainforest alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year.
- If nothing is done to stop the destruction of the earth’s rainforests, and the destruction continues at the current rate, the entire Amazon rainforest will die within 50 years.
What’s fanning the flames?
Each year, from June to December, the Amazon basin dries out. This makes it more susceptible to wildfires, which are often caused by human error and clearing out the land for farming and development. Deforestation is the number one cause of rainforest fire and loss.
Sometimes humans deliberately set fires in an effort to quickly clear the land of vegetation, or to make it more suitable for cattle and other livestock. Many times, the trees will be cut down and left to dry, which is essentially creating a giant tinder box on the land. This has a devastating effect, which is proven by the fact that wildfires in 2019 have been burning over 7,000 square miles—an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
When you combine deforestation with massive droughts, which can happen during El Nino years, the conditions are perfect for disastrous wildfires.
How can we stop the fires and preserve the rainforests?
The Brazilian government took strides in the mid-2000s to curb deforestation and implement safer practices, while still allowing for farming and industry. For a while, it worked, but when the new president Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018, he made it easier for farmers and developers to continue the deforestation. In April, May and June of 2019 alone, over 700 square miles of the rainforest were chopped down—a staggering rate that has been unmatched for years.
The illegal deforestation and logging trades are contributing to the problem, but there are a few things we can do to help keep the rainforests safe and prolific, such as protecting an acre of land through the Rainforest Action Network, or buying the land, if possible, through the Rainforest Trust.
Another issue is that Bolsonaro has gone on record saying that he not only doesn’t care about the Amazonian indigenous population, but that they don’t even deserve a millimeter of space—so by supporting the indigenous population through lobbyists, you can help fight back against that toxic mindset.
Reducing your consumption of wood products and beef can help, too: much of the rainforest has been cleared for cattle farming as well as soybean production, which is used for cattle feed. Similarly, cutting down on your paper usage and making an effort to use recycled paper can help lessen the demand for timber from the rainforests.
Finally, getting politically involved is a great way to make your voice heard. You should not only vote for candidates with a proven track record of advocating for environmental and human rights, but consider putting pressure on other governments to take action as well. Entities like the EU and lobbyists like Greenpeace are doing their part to sanction the Brazilian government, or shame them into taking action before it’s too late.
Taking action against corporations is the last piece of the puzzle: unfettered capitalism has ravaged the global landscape in pursuit of profit. While it might be hard to give up the convenience and other benefits that large corporations offer everyday people, the only way to get the message across is to cut into their bottom line.
We need to act now, before it’s too late
It’s clear that the destruction of the rainforests is a problem we all need to work together to combat. Use the suggestions above to make an impact—before it’s too late.