If you just recently learned about the massive wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest, or if you’re learning about it from me right now, the situation is both dire and seemingly far away. This affects the very air we breathe and the overall temperature of the planet (trees store CO2; when they burn or die, that CO2 is released into the atmosphere). The fires were intentionally set by cattle ranchers and soy farmers. The Brazilian president accused non-governmental organizations (NGOs, charities basically) of setting the fires, then denied he said so. So what can we do about it? Here are 3 action items!
1. Learn and Share
For a wider context, this book about human-caused climate disruption includes a chapter on the forests, particularly the Amazon rainforest: The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail.
This article also includes a detailed list of action items, including organizations to which you can donate, petitions you can sign, and other products to avoid if you want to do more for the Amazon rainforest than what I’ve suggested.
Also, these wildfires have been raging for three weeks, but there’s been very little media coverage, even in Brazil, until a few days ago when the excessive smoke turned Sao Paulo as dark as night at 3:30 in the afternoon. Tell your friends and family what you’re learning.
2. Boycott Beef
This is probably the easiest and most impactful thing we can all do.
Cattle ranchers and soy farmers are the main people accused of setting the fires, and have been primarily responsible for illegally clearcutting the rainforest in the past. Soy, beef, coffee, and paper products are significant exports for Brazil, and all contribute to deforestation at the best of times, but I’m focusing on beef because it’s such a prevalent food in my diet. There are 3 main Brazilian beef companies. Look at each of their websites for lists of brands they supply.
Just because a pet food, for example, advertises being “made in the USA” doesn’t mean they don’t source their beef from Brazil (see Redbarn Pet Products). Likewise, just because a steak house has “Texas” in the name doesn’t mean they don’t buy Brazilian beef. The same can be said about where the beef in your hamburger and on your pizza was raised. This is a boycott, not a lifelong lifestyle change, so when conditions improve, I’ll happily order a ribeye again.
It’s easy to vilify the farmers and ranchers who set the fires, but keep in mind that most are extremely poor, and are setting fires because they are desperate to support themselves and their families. Donations to organizations assisting local communities help people from getting into those desperate circumstances.
3. Write to your elected officials.
Below is my letter to my senators and congressman, which I sent on my lunch break. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes.
In light of the escalating wildfires in Brazil, I am writing to encourage you to support the State Department in putting pressure on Brazilian beef and soy industries, which have been accused of setting the fires and have long been responsible for illegal clearcutting of the rainforest. The region is so biodiverse, and we still know so little about what lies within it. We’ve already lost countless species to these fires, and we will never get them back. We don’t even know what we’re losing because deforestation and now these fires are wiping out huge areas of life so quickly. The wildfires are now so massive that dieback may set in, causing a feedback loop of death in response to death, killing parts of the rainforest where the fires haven’t reached. This dieback would turn the “world’s lungs” into arid land, perhaps even a desert. The world’s lungs will be dead. Plants and chemicals only found in the Amazon and used for medicines prevalent throughout the Western world will be gone forever. These wildfires threaten the very air we breathe. Even without dieback, massive amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere by the dying trees, further contributing to climate instability and extreme weather across the world, including wildfires in Alaska and hurricanes in the US’s Gulf and Atlantic shores. This is not a tragedy isolated to Brazil, in cause or impact. Please respond strongly and swiftly to help mitigate the devastation.