The Amazon Rainforest Fires of 2019

This summer, the Amazon rainforest began to burn at a rapid rate that hasn’t been seen before in recent years. How could a place described as the lungs of our planet be destroyed in front of our very eyes? Deforestation isn’t a new issue for the Amazon, it can be down to naturally occurring fires but the majority are thought to have been started illegally by ranchers and loggers. Burning down acres of land allows ranchers to create grazing ground for their cattle which in turn destroys the habitat of thousands of species of animals that call the Amazon their home. This threat extends to the Indigenous people who live in and around the rainforest as their protected land is targeted and they are forced to flee.

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There has been a lot of speculation in the media about who exactly is to blame for the increased deforestation rates in the Amazon. Donald Trump is thought to be a key player in the disaster as his trade war with China has left Brazil grappling to support the Chinese agricultural demands. Although, the main problem seems to lie in Brazil’s domestic policies.

It’s hard to discuss the issues surrounding the Amazon rainforest fire without mentioning Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro. Spoiler Alert: He is not one of the good guys. Bolsonaro is the leader of the Social Liberal Party, as its name suggests it was once firmly rooted in left-wing politics. However, in a bizarre turn of events, Bolsonaro has led the party to abandon its liberal policies. Like its leader, the party now advocates for hard-line stances on abortion, gay marriage and women’s rights.

Bolsonaro himself put the blame on local Non-Governmental Organisations. He believes the very people who are there to protect the environment deliberately started the fires as they had been denied funding. Of course, this seems rather unlikely and there is absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

The Martyr of the Amazon

2004 FILE PHOTO OF U.S. SISTER DOROTHY STANGPictured above is Sister Dorothy Stang. (Photo: Carlos Silva/AVP)

For many people living in Brazil, speaking up about what is happening in the Amazon is a matter of life or death. When I was researching for this blog post, I came across the story of Sister Dorothy Stang. She was an American nun who had been living in Brazil and was known for helping locals who had been displaced by ranchers. She taught sustainable farming methods and was an advocate for the protection of the rainforest. Her work to protect it, and the communities who lived there, angered ranchers. She was placed on a hit list and at the age of 73, on the 12th of February 2005, Dorothy was shot and killed.

Celebrities Speak Out

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At first, there was a distinct lack of media attention across the world as the fires increased. Actress, Zoe Kravitz, shared a popular post (pictured above) that went viral during the crisis. It compares the lack of media coverage to the Notre Dame fire, which in comparison was covered extensively. With the Notre Dame fire, there was a degree of shock value as a historical building was damaged. Perhaps because the destruction of the rainforest is harder to measure, the media tend to focus on stories that more readily capture the public’s attention. 

As the situation worsened, celebrities and public figures began to show their support by sharing posts highlighting the disaster. Many celebrities are beginning to get involved more actively in politics, especially in matters such as climate change. Celebrity support cannot be underestimated as it can act as a spotlight on events, focuses media attention on an issue and creates pressure for politicians to take action.

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What can we do?

In the face of the current political landscape, it can feel pretty helpless watching events unfold halfway across the world.  However, there are small steps we can take that make all the difference in the fight against climate change.

  1. Share it

If you feel passionate about a particular issue sharing it online can keep it in the public sphere. Even talking about it with your family and friends can help keep the conversation alive even when then the news cycle moves on to the next story.

2. Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy

The increased demand for meat and dairy in recent years has caused the clearing of the Amazon to make room for fields to feed live-stock. If we as a society cut back our intake of animal products it would make a huge difference in the battle against climate change.

3. Support politicians that care about the environment

Climate change isn’t just happening around the world; it’s happening at home too. The worst thing we could do is support politicians who don’t even believe it exists.

Sarah Sweeney is a final year student Bsc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-sweeney-ab6635143/  and Instagram @sarahsween3y