The world’s largest rainforest made headlines for the past few days, and for the worst reason imaginable. The Amazon Rainforest has been burning for a month, and its government and press had just been watching it happen. While it sparked outrage all over the world, it opened up discussions about how we can actually help the fires and the environment as a whole. It’s hard to find answers when everyone is distraught and speaking all over each other at the same time, so let’s try to take a closer look at what’s actually happening.
Why is the Amazon burning?
It depends who you’re asking. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, blames it on NGOs who are apparently acting out because of issues of funding (It is important to note, however, that he has not presented any semblance of evidence to this claim so far).
While it can be chalked up to just that, a flurry of allegations from the Internet and the press go against it, pointing the finger at his administration for allowing companies to raze the forest and turn it into farm land (a.k.a. kaingin method). This is made clear by the fact that 1) wildfires in the Amazon are rare, and; 2) the area that’s on fire has already been prepped for agricultural use.
— ɪsᴀ; taejjkjm 🍑 (@sevageong) August 21, 2019
“These assholes came in and burned down [our reservation]… I want all of the media here to see this.”
The quick answer to this question is humans. Ever since Bolsonaro’s term in the office, the Amazon saw an increase of 84% in forest fires, which is unlikely to be caused spontaneously. Whether it’s farmers or illegal loggers, the administration that swore to protect the Amazon has been failing to do so. They’re even rejecting foreign aid.
What does it mean to us?
The devastating image of hundred-year-old trees going up in flames doesn’t quite capture the gravity of the situation. It is beyond heartbreaking to see thousand-year-old trees turn into ash, and several wildlife, including endangered native species, lose their homes and each other to the flames.
The Amazon was considered one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet. It has been absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, reducing global warming naturally through its negative emissions.
The fires can lead to a cascading system collapse
Ever since the onslaught of the Amazon’s destruction and the fire that happened this month, the tables have turned for the worse, and it is now considered irreversible. Aside from the rainforest emitting more and more greenhouse gases by the minute, the potential loss of the Amazon will also cause a global collapse. The ecosystem will be changed forever, and scientists predict that it will cause forest dieback (a phenomena where trees suddenly die for no apparent cause).
Needless to say, we’ve reached a tipping point in climate change.
What we talk about when we talk about saving the environment
I’m tired of these “EAT LESS MEAT” posts in response to the agri-business-linked arsons of the Amazon.
The palm oil in your favorite vegan burger is possible because entire forests in Papua New Guinea were “cleared” and burned for the benefit of landowners.
— Arrianna M. Planey (@Arrianna_Planey) August 24, 2019
The only proper response to a global crisis is to figure out what we can do to help. An interesting thing that happened during the outcry when news of the Amazon fire broke out was that the #PrayForTheAmazon hashtag eventually turned into #ActForTheAmazon (as opposed to previous online movements that mostly focused on “thoughts and prayers”). However, sentiment quickly turned into debates as this opened the discussion for the suggestion of eating less meat—with the stats to back it up. The most cited statistic is that if everyone in America swore off meat, it would be equivalent to getting 60 million cars off the road.
Does going vegan actually help the environment?
While the numbers may add up with the logic, it often ends up mystifying ethical consumption. Insisting that everyone go vegan and zero waste is problematic for several reasons. First, it’s simply not an option for everyone. The Philippines is even known to have a sachet economy exactly because of this; it’s too expensive to buy in bulk, so the only way to go is to buy what you can afford for a day or two. Even for the middle class, this proves to be a hard switch. Second, it erases indigenous peoples’ inherent role as stalwarts of the environment. Believe it or not, ethical consumption is possible and has been happening when indigenous people are given jurisdiction over the land that they protect.
Ethical consumption under capitalism doesn’t exist.
And most importantly: third, this absolves those who are at fault from the consequences of their actions (read: greed). The environment has been heavily exploited at minimum cost, maximum profit, without much thought of what comes after the sale.
Though this may be the ugly truth, there’s an evident shift in how companies are marketing themselves, referred to as “greenwashing”. This makes a lifestyle change towards “eco-friendly” brands so alluring for the millennial with purchasing power solely because of this appeal to living a comfortable “purposive” life.
To be clear, veganism definitely has its merits. It’s a sensible attempt at saving the world that would definitely have an impact, but it’s not inclusive enough. We often forget that veganism is not only a lifestyle, but also a form activism that needs to be holistic.
The people matter as much as the environment
Caring about the environment should go hand-in-hand with other social issues, especially advocating for indigenous peoples’ rights. In the end, it’s about the land and those who protect it. The Amazon fire is showing us exactly that: we cannot live sustainably without the help of indigenous knowledge systems.
With administrations like Bolsonaro’s encouraging rapid deforestation and the displacement of indigenous peoples, traditional practices that champion ethical sourcing and biodiversity suffer a cruel fate. The slow but violent excision of this knowledge system denies the entire world a future.
Will anything I do actually help?
Because the issue deals with politics from institutions that are bigger than any of us, it’s hard to find a way to make yourself useful. Significant changes can only be enacted by those who have the power to do so; so that leaves us, a million miles away with barely even a following on Twitter.
I’d like to believe that doing things like sharing, donating, and doing meatless Mondays can preserve your sanity in the midst of this global catastrophe, which is also an important thing to consider when fighting the good fight. This also helps you create an impact in your corner of the world, but the greater responsibility we have is to do everything we can to support indigenous jurisdiction to get our planet’s future back because, well, we only have just this one. This means signal boosting, framing conversations in the right way, challenging our lawmakers to take action in our own country before it happens here—I mean, everything. The doomsday clock is ticking, so what are you doing about it?
How are you saving the world? Let us know below!