“The world is burning.”
“The Amazon rainforest is on fire.”
“We all need to go vegan.”
“But Africa is on fire too.”
“The lungs of the earth, everyone, the lungs of the earth!”
These reactions might seem overwhelming because they are. Recent news headlines and media comments about the Amazon rainforest have been downright alarming. How do we digest all of this information? How do we develop an informed opinion? I will report the facts, so this multi-faceted issue can be well understood.
The Amazon rainforest fires are very much on purpose. The government, under the control of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, has been intentionally setting the fires in order to use the land for productivity. In other words, deforestation for financial gain. The meat and dairy industry is currently thriving, which is great for farmers and ranchers. Since business is booming, entering the field is more appealing. However, as we will explore, it is at the expense of the environment.
This is important to everyone on earth for a few reasons.
Firstly, the demand for meat and dairy comes from both developing and developed countries. Developed countries, like the U.S., have a high rate of meat and dairy consumption. Despite the introduction of meat and dairy alternatives, along with trending vegetarian/vegan diets, they remain a significant portion of most meals. Meanwhile, in developing countries, like Brazil, the rate of meat and dairy consumption is lower although it is growing faster than in developed countries. This overall demand for consumption creates the market for industry.
Secondly, the Amazon rainforest is a carbon sink. This means that it has an ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As the largest rainforest in the world, it is responsible for absorbing 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. This gives it a very important role in the earth’s natural systems. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, the Amazon stores carbon in its trees. This carbon is being released into the atmosphere as the fires destroy them.
On that note, to clarify some fake news, there was a statistic spreading on social media stating that the Amazon produces 20% of the oxygen in the world’s atmosphere. It turns out that was false. Scientists say that the Amazon actually “uses almost as much oxygen as it makes.” But this does not strip it of its environmental importance.
At this time, Africa is experiencing wildfires This has been a point of some critique and comparison with the Amazon as it receives more attention than Africa. But let us unpack this with the facts. The Amazon does not naturally experience wildfires—again, the fires are different there and are intentionally taking place. Africa’s wildfires are natural to their environment. The land takes a temporary hit but renews itself eventually after. The Amazon is experiencing irreplaceable destruction from fires, not wildfires.
To prevent more environmental damage, the Brazilian government has since banned intentional fires. Yet, with fires ablaze, they refused $20 million in aid to put them out. It can leave one feeling perplexed because Brazil now has a responsibility that is larger than the confines of its borders. They should recognize the influence they can have as an environmental leader at this climactic moment in history.
Given the facts, it can feel disheartening that more cannot be done to directly support the Amazon or provide aid. There are several ways to donate money but preventing these issues is less expensive than fixing them. In consideration to that, here are 15 things you can do to help offset your carbon emissions (and kinda do the job of the Amazon rainforest):
- Plant trees. (Your internet searches can plant trees with Ecosia.org)
- Eat less meat.
- Buy foods in bulk.
- Compost your food scraps. (NYC Food Scrap Drop-Off Locations)
- Wash clothes in cold water.
- Buy clothing from thrift shops.
- Avoid fast fashion.
- Walk or ride your bike instead of driving.
- Take the shortest routes when driving.
- Use less heat in the winter by dressing warmly.
- Avoid buying items with a lot of packaging.
- Switch your lightbulbs to energy efficient ones. (Learn about light bulb comparisons at Energy.gov)
- Use less air conditioning.
- Avoid flying as much as possible.
- Buy less stuff in general!
If we all did what we could, we could make a big difference. Every little bit counts.