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An aerial view of the Amazon forest fires in an indigenous territory in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

Seven ways to fight fires in the Amazon

Climate change
Brazil
Activism

The latest wave of fires in the Brazil have sent shockwaves around the world. With 74,000 fires already registered in 2019 – an 84 per cent increase on the same period last year – and with around half of these in the Amazon, if fires continue at a high rate through September, they could reach levels of destruction not seen since the early 2000s.

While these aren’t (yet) the worst fires the Brazilian rainforest has ever seen – according to Global Forest Watch, this is set to be the third-highest rate of Amazon forest burning since 2010 – they are resonating with a wider audience for several reasons.

The first is a greater public understanding of the dangers posed by losing the Amazon, thanks to greater public urgency on climate change. The presence of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also served to put the world on high-alert. Bolsonaro’s policies and public statements are encouraging the fires, as Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch explains: ‘Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a licence to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.’

The third driver of interest are the viral media articles that name meat-eating as a driver of the fires. Vegan campaigners calling for a change in Western diets to reduce demand for beef raised on ex-rainforest land have helped to drive the issue home for consumers in the West.

So what can we do?

Learn more about what’s happening, and why.

These fires haven’t come out of nowhere. They’re being driven not just by one far-right government but by a global agribusiness, mining, oil and finance sector who have been shamelessly profiting from rainforest destruction for decades. This isn’t just happening in Brazil – it’s a pattern across all the countries of the Amazon basin, which includes Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Suriname and Guyana. You could start with this: a Novara Media discussion with Colombian academic Oscar Guardiola-Rivera gives a good overview.

Support resistance on the ground.

Leaked documents show Bolsonaro’s government is planning major road and dam projects in the Amazon. This is not just about financial gain – it’s about trying to break the spirit and organizing power of indigenous forest peoples, who time and again have been instrumental in bringing down destructive governments across Latin America. But indigenous peoples in Brazil – and other Amazonian countries – continue to resist, and combined with a growing urban protest movement against Bolsonaro’s economic policies, have helped push public dissatisfaction with the president over 50 per cent. We can help by seeking out and sharing these stories of resistance, which are too often neglected by the mainstream media, sending messages of support, and joining in solidarity protests near us – 5 September is the next day of global action on the issue.

Challenge companies driving the destruction.

A report from indigenous leaders in Brazil, and recent analysis by Mighty Earth, name the international businesses and financiers that are profiting from the burning of the Amazon. See which ones are near you, and think about how you and any groups you’re involved with might be able to put pressure on them through protests, boycotts, public shaming or divestment campaigns.

Stop your own government from worsening the crisis.

The EU is on the brink of ratifying a Free Trade Agreement with Latin American countries, including Brazil, which could increase deforestation unless strong safeguards are put in place. Governments around the world could – and should – introduce stronger import standards to prevent companies from sourcing products from land linked to rainforest destruction. We need to pressure our governments to take these issues seriously – or elect new governments that will.

Donate to organizations that are supporting indigenous resistance,

such as the Indigenous Environment Network, Amazon Watch or the Rainforest Action Network.

Support local alternatives.

As well as reducing (or cutting out) our own personal beef consumption, and ensuring any soya products we buy aren’t from rainforest land, we can seek out – and help to build – sustainable food and agriculture projects near us that reduce the need for imported products.

Organize against far-right politics.

Bolsonaro is part of a global rise in hard-right and neo-fascist politicians, whose supporters are internationally connected and working to build a global movement based on racism, division and hate, with anti-environmental policies and climate science denial as core components of this dangerous ideology. We need to be just as well-organized, and challenge these ideas wherever they raise their ugly head.

This list draws on conversations with Latin American activists and international solidarity campaigners. With thanks to: Juan Jose Guzman of Transforma, Tom Younger of the Forest Peoples Programme, Luis Alberto Camargo of OpEPA, and Ana Maria Ancines of Parents for Future Colombia.

 

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