The Amazon Has Been Burning for 40 Years. Here’s What You Can Do Today to Preserve It.

Amy Arani

The plumes of smoke billowing up from miles of old-growth jungle have captivated our quick-moving media cycle for the last few weeks. Although as dynamic and dramatic as usual, the latest headlines have been unable to displace images of vast swaths of blackened land and burning canopy.

The Amazon is facing potential collapse.

Those of us who live or have lived in California know about fire's destructive power. We've packed our cars with our most precious belongings and driven off through the smoke. We've lost our homes and our loved ones. The fires in the Amazon, however, if left unchecked, could resurface the world. At the very least, they're threatening the lives of the flora, fauna, and people that call the world's largest rainforest home.

Fires in the Amazon are not unusual, especially during the dry season, which is from around August to November each year. But this has been the worst year on record for fires since the Brazilian Brazilian Space Research Institute (ISPE) started tracking them in 2013. And there are 84% more fires in the Amazon this year than last year at this time. Check out this NASA time-lapse of satellite images that show the rapid deforestation of the amazonian rainforest.

Amazon Deforestation Timelapse

Why Save The Rainforests?

It probably seems obvious to an eco-fashionista like yourself that rainforests are worth having around. They house 70% of earth’s land mammals, and a quarter of all modern medicine comes from their plants—only 1% of which have been studied.

 Although the Amazon's status as the lungs of the planet is debatable, it still sequesters 2 billion tons of CO2 each year. And we need all the help we can get. In 2017, world emissions topped 37+ billion tons. If that’s hard to visualize, picture the National Mall filled end to end and four times higher than the Washington Monument. That would equal a mere 1 billion tons (Washington Post).  

Rainforests also contribute to the water cycle, especially locally, and the Amazon is no exception. Since 1979, the dry season there has increased by three weeks, and a 2013 study predicted that it would continue to grow. Over time, this could spell disaster for the largest rainforest on earth.

“We believe that negative synergies between deforestation, climate change, and widespread use of fire indicate a tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia at 20-25% deforestation.”

-Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy

But economic arguments to raze rainforests abound, most notably from Brazil’s Jain Bolsonaro, who campaigned on developing the Amazon. Bolsonaro and has since made good on his promises, pushing into new areas of the rainforest since being elected, and refusing to meet with indigenous leaders. He has also rejected 20M in aid from G7 countries, which he says he will consider if Macron apologizes for his part in their war of words.

Deforestation: A Systemic Problem with a Global Solution

Deforestation is nothing new — slash and burn clearing techniques have been threatening the Amazon for decades. In fact, another massive inferno was on the cover of TIME magazine in 1989. From 1970-2018, deforestation has been responsible for 792,051 square kilometers of rainforest loss, or 20%. But deforestation and fires go hand in hand. In 2016, 81% of the fires in the Amazon were human-caused — set to make room for crops and grazing. 

Since 2004, Brazil has made great strides in protecting the Amazon. The government has been fighting deforestation in earnest by protecting indigenous land, preserving new areas, and arresting and fining violators. It worked. Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation had fallen by 75% (L.A. Times). 

Development in the Amazon has been increasing since 2012, and with Bolsonaro in power, legal protections appear to be in name only. His damn and highway plans run right through protected areas of rainforest. He's made threatening comments regarding indigenous land. And his environmental minister has been accused of changing maps to benefit mining companies (Vox).

Denis Rivas, the president of the National Association of Environmental Experts, another group of government workers, said many longtime workers have seen their life’s work crumble in recent years since the era when Brazil succeeded at reining in deforestation ended around 2012.

Deforestation began inching up after that and has accelerated significantly under Bolsonaro as environmental agencies were weakened.

The New York Times

But that doesn't mean we are helpless. We can make changes here at home that will reverberate through the canopy. Each small step we take toward a world that works in concert for the good of all makes our voices louder. Here are some you can take today.

Vote with Your Dollars

Listen to the echoes of the movements that were born from Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez. Boycott. In a capitalistic society, our dollars can be louder than our voices.  If we stop buying products that require deforestation to produce, we will reduce demand. Here are four products to either boycott or buy from more eco-friendly sources.

Stop Eating Brazilian Grass-Fed Beef and Don't Buy Amazonian Leather

When it comes to deforestation, cattle ranching is a major culprit — to the tune of 80%. Not only does grazing require trees to be cut down, the grass must be burned again every few years, increasing fire risk. If beef is a regular part of your diet, be sure to check the labels and stay away from products from Brazil (Yale).

Leather is a little trickier, but before you buy those suede shoes you can't live without or that great crossbody, do your due diligence. Or better yet, buy used leather. The leather industry is rife with animal abuse too.

Say No to Brazilian Soybeans

Soybeans are another problem. Cultivation necessitates forest clearing. We say skip them unless you can verify the country of origin.

Buy Recycled Paper Products

Go for 100% post consumer recycled paper, toilet paper, and paper towels. That way, you'll know that no new trees were cut down to make your favorite notebook or fluffy soft.

Stay Away from Tropical Wood

High demand for items made from exotic wood such as mahogany fuels the logging industry, which is another driver of deforestation. Here's a list of what to avoid.

Support Forest-Friendly Products

We can also support more eco-friendly products created in harmony with the forest. Shopping Rainforest Alliance Certified goods is a great place to start.

Donate to These 4 Charities

Earth Alliance

Earth Alliance's Amazon Fund passes your donation to local organizations and indigenous communities.

Forest Fund

Forest Fund works with local landowners who face economic pressures to turn that land into pasture. They also work with low-income landowners to re-forest river basin areas. Learn more about them here.

The Kayapo

The Kayapo dwell on approximately 11,000 hectares of Brazilian forest — about the size of Virginia. They're at the front lines, defending their legal borders from loggers, ranchers, and miners. 100% of your donation goes directly to them.

Rainforest Foundation

The Rainforest Foundation works with indigenous tribes throughout the world to secure their rights, which in turn, protects the forests in which they live.