Brazil's Amazon rainforest fires have caused global concern. And yet it could get even worse as the country's fire season is just getting started.
Since January more than 70,000 fires have been detected in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, up 84% from the number tracked in 2018, according to the country's National Institute for Space Research. This not only threatens the region's future, but could also speed up climate change, since the rainforest significantly helps reduce the world's carbon dioxide levels.
The situation could get even worse, according to the World Resources Institute, since 62% of Brazil's forest fires traditionally occur in September through the end of the year.
The record number of fires is garnering international attention, with French President Emmanuel Macron organizing a $22 million fund at the recent G-7 summit. Celebrities are also weighing in. Madonna took to Instagram to urge Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, to change his policies and actor Leonardo DiCaprio pledged $5 million to help, while rapper Lil Nas X and and supermodel Cara Delevingne have raised awareness via social media.
So what can you do to help? Conservation experts and scientists say that while a number of factors are contributing to the current crisis, deforestation is the biggest driver. In recent years, loggers and ranchers have aggressively cleared land for cattle production. If consumers want to help end these practices, a simple ongoing solution is to eat less beef.
There are also several organizations you can support that are working directly in Brazil to help indigenous communities and protect the Amazon rainforests.
You might have encountered the Rainforest Alliance through its green frog certification, which is awarded to companies and producers working toward sustainability. But the organization also works with communities to conserve forests and support sustainable livelihoods.
Rainforest Alliance announced earlier this month that it would be redirecting 100% of its donations to frontline organizations in Brazil working to "protect the Amazon and defend the rights of its Indigenous people," including the Brazil chapter of Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin and sustainable agriculture partner IMAFLORA.
The Rainforest Action Network's programs extend far beyond the Brazilian Amazon. Through its Protect-an-Acre program, the group has given out more than $1 million in grants to protect millions of acres around the world since 1993.
RAN works in Brazil's Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory supporting the Munduruku people's campaign to create a recognized territory and monitor the area for illegal logging and mining activity. The territory is also threatened by proposed dams and hydroelectric plants.
The Amazon in Brazil home to thousands of indigenous communities, so the recent forest fires not only affect the climate, they also threaten those whose livelihoods depend on the rainforests.
The Rainforest Foundation is one organization that works to support these local communities. The group is accepting donations, 100% of which will go to support "on-the-ground indigenous organizations in Brazil" focused on stopping illegal deforestation and securing land claims, as well as building campaigns aimed at mobilizing government action.
Another organization that works with the Munduruku people is Amazon Watch. The group has supported the community's efforts to stop the proposed dam, and this year, helped convene an assembly of Munduruku youth with Munduruku chiefs.
Amazon Watch engages in a number of activist roles in the Amazon region, including providing legal defense, convening community assemblies and workshops, as well as mapping and monitoring initiatives.
Launched in July, Earth Alliance is a joint environmental conservation project founded by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, and private equity guru Brian Sheth. On Sunday, the organization formed an Amazon Forest Fund, with an initial $5 million pledge from DiCaprio.
The fund will be focusing resources toward local communities and groups working to protect the Amazon, as well as those affected by the fires. Earth Alliance noted five groups so far that will receive funding, including the Kayapo people, the Brazil chapter of Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin and the Instituto Socioambiental.
Another organization that's working with indigenous communities on the ground is the field-based Amazon Conservation Team. In Brazil, ACT has worked with tribes located around the Xingu Indigenous Park on a number of initiatives, including protecting the local environment and establishing a sustainable food and water supply. "The more people there are who can effectively care for, manage and protect their traditional lands, the more forests will be protected," according to ACT.
The well-known conservation organization is urging people to not only pay attention, but also shop smart and reduce your fossil fuel consumption. WWF is also encouraging people to speak up, creating an online petition you can sign to call on the governments of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname to "protect the Amazon, combat deforestation and reduce the causes of fires."
The WWF's United Kingdom chapter has also started an Amazon Emergency Appeal donation portal. The donations will be earmarked for local medical support, firefighter training and security, as well as campaigning for more government action. Keep in mind that these donations are in British pounds, so if you donate, make sure it's with a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.
In addition to donating to specific organizations, experts are urging consumers to put their money to work by supporting business and companies working toward sustainable goals.
Rainforest Alliance has a list of over 700 companies, including popular name brands such as Nespresso, Charmin and Tom's of Maine, that the organization certifies as meeting rigorous environmental and social standards.
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