The Amazon, the most diverse ecosystem in the world, is burning at a devastatingly rapid rate. Since the start of the year, Brazil has recorded more than 80,000 fires across the country — most of which have erupted in the rain forest — which is an 84 percent increase over the same period in 2018. In the past month alone, there have been at least 26,000. The current fires are so widespread and severe that they’re visible from space, and environmental activists and world leaders are demanding immediate action to protect indigenous peoples and wildlife.
Predictably, humans are to blame for this catastrophe, which has only grown worse under Brazil’s right-wing, climate-change-denying president, Jair Bolsonaro. During his tenure, Bolsonaro has severely weakened environmental and indigenous protections and blatantly prioritized business interests over everything else, emboldening farmers and ranchers to start illegal fires to clear land for cattle. Earlier this week, he flat-out rejected $22.2 million in international aid to help fight the fires.
While much of the damage inflicted on the wildlife and indigenous communities in the region — as well as the Earth’s atmosphere — is irreversible, organizations, activists, and world leaders are urging people to help in any way they can.
Here’s what you can do to help fight back against the fires ravaging the Amazon:
Donate to organizations.
• Amazon Watch: Since 1996, Amazon Watch has worked with indigenous communities to protect their rights, as well as the rain forest. “The immediate crisis of catastrophic fires in the Amazon are an urgent threat to its indigenous inhabitants, the forest itself, and our global climate,” their website says. “Your donation will go directly to our work with indigenous communities to stop the destruction and defend their rights and homes.”
• Rainforest Alliance: In a statement to the Cut, the Rainforest Alliance, an NGO dedicated to conserving biodiversity and educating consumers about sustainability, outlined their plan of action in response to the crisis.
“The Rainforest Alliance is working to leverage our longstanding relationships in the public and private sectors to pressure the Brazilian government to reinstate the environmental enforcement that is essential to defending the Amazon against illegal logging, destructive slash-and-burn agriculture, and other existential threats,” the statement reads. “In addition, the Rainforest Alliance has pledged to redirect 100% of the funds donated in response to our social media alert to frontline groups in the Brazilian Amazon, including the Brazil chapter of our Indigenous federation partner COICA and our longtime sustainable agriculture partner IMAFLORA.”
• World Wildlife Fund: The World Wildlife Fund, another international NGO, focuses on reducing human impact on the environment to conserve wildlife and protect endangered species. “These fires are destroying ecosystems, displacing wildlife, and jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions,” senior vice president Kerry Cesareo said in a statement provided to the Cut.
Buy products that help protect against deforestation.
Look for products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or the Rainforest Alliance (RA). Per each of the organization’s websites, FSC-certified products “come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits,” while the green frog on RA-certified products is “a symbol of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.” (Some of the products on the latter list may come as a pleasant surprise, such as McDonald’s coffee cups and Charmin toilet paper.)
Protect an acre of land.
You can also donate money through the Rainforest Action Network’s Protect an Acre program, which funnels donations to grassroots organizations that work to protect both threatened forest territories and the communities that have lived in these regions for generations. Per the organization’s website, “These grants are critical to help local activists regain control of and sustainably manage traditional territories.” Learn more here.
Cut back on beef.
Many of the people believed to be starting the fires are ranchers seeking to clear land to raise cattle. For years, Brazil has been the world’s largest exporter of beef, providing nearly 20 percent of global beef exports in 2018, according to the USDA.
Furthermore, as Atlantic writer James Hamblin wrote in August 2017, citing a groundbreaking Oregon State University study, the U.S. could significantly cut back on its greenhouse-gas emissions if everyone ate beans instead of beef.
Get more involved in environmental activism.
Climate change poses the largest environmental threat ever known to man; it is a global crisis that demands international action. Therefore, consider getting involved with or supporting climate activism. Two groups leading this movement are the Sunrise Movement and the People’s Climate Movement, both of which are pushing for the passage of the Green New Deal, a policy package that aims to simultaneously reform the U.S. economy and fight climate change.
You can also get out in the streets. Ahead of the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City on September 23, young people — some of our fiercest environmental activists — and adults across the country will participate in #strikewithus demonstrations on September 20 to “demand transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis.” To find the nearest demonstration, visit the official #strikewithus website.
Sign a petition.
If nothing else, consider signing a petition to send the message that the Amazon fires demand urgent action. “Protecting forests is crucial to solving the climate crisis … tell Bolsonaro’s government to save the Amazon Rainforest and protect the lands of Indigenous and traditional communities,” reads one widely circulated petition from Greenpeace.
This post has been updated.