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August 22, 2019

The Amazon is Afire—Where is the Outrage & Grief?


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The Amazon is burning.

I saw the images in the news and spread across social media yesterday for the first time.

I was holding my two sleeping sugar gliders in a pouch and instinctively clutched them to my chest as my body shook with shuttered grief. I saw the blackened air, the ancient trees sprawled like charred bodies across the ground, the furious orange flames, the lifeless bodies of animals who could not flee, and I imagined all I didn’t see.

The animals trapped in flames. The ones who escaped with burns, lung damage, and nowhere to go. The sheer number of trees destroyed. The acres consumed by the minute.

Then I tried, and failed, to imagine the scope of this catastrophe. The blow to climate change reparations. The blow to our planet’s biodiversity. The implication for human extinction. The air quality for the people of South America. The threat to indigenous people of the Amazon.

Through closed eyes, it all came flooding in, pounding at my brain.

The oceans filled with plastic. The rising seas. The disappearing glaciers. The development of the Arctic. The stripping of protections for endangered species. The cattle feed lots and factory farms. The escalation of mass shootings, ICE raids, family separation, racial tensions, and white supremacy.

And I couldn’t bear it. 

I sat and shook and wailed alone in our apartment. I shuffled in a trance along a path running beside the creek that snakes through town, intermittently stopping to cover my mouth and muffle sobs while I stared at our own vegetation and threatened habitat. I willed myself to my yoga class, sweated through an hour, and came home in a foul mood.

 I finally fell into a fitful sleep. And today I woke up to numbness. 

The Amazon is burning.

That sentence is both casual and chilling to the ears. It is incapable of conveying the depth of horror contained within, because the truth is beyond comprehension. The Amazon rainforest covers a geographical patch of Earth that is roughly 2.1 million square miles—and rapidly shrinking. The entire United States spans almost 3.8 million square miles. So, essentially, “The Amazon is burning,” would be equivalent to a headline stating “Half of the United States is burning.”

Except the Amazon rainforest, which has been around for about 10 million years, is far more valuable to the life of the planet than the United States—for survival and biodiversity. It is well known as the “lungs of the planet,” home to “10 percent of the world’s species, including 2.5 million species of insect,” and 15 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. And it’s been burning at an accelerated rate for almost three weeks now, though I only just read about it in a major news source.

I can’t even fathom this.

If half of the United States were on fire, it would immediately be declared an international crisis. Hell, if the White House were on fire, it would generate far more international media coverage than what we’ve seen for the Amazon fires.

After Notre Dame burned, the world responded in an outcry of grief and rage, partnered with an outpouring of donations toward saving and restoring the building and its artifacts.

All that for a building, an historical and religious relic, that is not essential to our survival or that of any other species. A building that will cease to matter if we are not here to appreciate it.

The grossly misguided priorities might almost be comical if it weren’t absolutely terrifying. 

Equally as terrifying: no one with the political power to do something about it seems to have the will to stop it. And even if they possessed the will, would they be able to stop it?

How do we put out that monstrosity of a fire?

The Amazon is burning.

I know the immobilization of grief I described is not unique to me. I am but one of a growing mass of people who are experiencing ecological grief. I know the sense of helplessness that comes with overwhelm is something that resonates with many others. I know I’m not alone in the tension of wrestling despair and hope.

And it’s easy to skip over the despair and head straight to the hope, but the truth lives somewhere in the middle. We must acknowledge this reality of heaviness and overwhelm, finding comfort in our shared grief, while also leaning into places of active hope.

The trick is finding those places where we feel empowered to do something. And I’m someone who needs to feel I can do something in the face of loss, disaster, and tragedy to protect the Earth I love and all her inhabitants.

So I searched and found this list of suggested actions in an article published today, which I share here for anyone else who needs this as much as I do:

>> Donate to Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.

>> Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres. 

>> Reduce your paper and wood consumption. Double-check with Rainforest Alliance that what you’re buying is considered rainforest-safe. You can also purchase rainforest-safe products from the alliance’s site. 

>> Reduce your beef intake. Beef found in processed products and fast-food burgers often comes from the rainforest.

>> The World Wide Fund for Nature (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States and Canada) works to protect the species in the Amazon and around the world.

>> Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 searches you run.

>> Explore Change.org petitions. A lawyer in Rio Branco has accumulated over 77,000 of his 150,000 signature goal to mobilize an investigation into the Amazonian fires

>> Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends indigenous rights, and works to address climate change. 

>> Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon, and empower indigenous peoples. 

>> Amazon Conservation accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward. You can help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve indigenous lands, and more.

>> Contact your elected officials and make your voice heard

>> Donate to One Tree Planted, which works to stop deforestation around the world and in the Amazon Rainforest. One Tree Planted will keep you updated on the Peru Project and the impact your trees are having on the community. 

>> Sign Greenpeace’s petition telling the Brazilian government to save the Amazon rainforest and protect the lands of indigenous and traditional communities.

We may not be able to douse the Amazon’s fires with our own hands, but we hold some power. More than we may realize.

And this is a shred of hope to cling to, compelling us forward, through despair and into action.


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