• Lizzie Shutt

Amazon Ablaze

Who started the fire? What is happening in Brazil? How can you help?

On August 22nd, I took a second to check Facebook and couldn’t believe what I was reading. My Brazilian teacher put up the first and most impactful post to me because she shared from her local perspective the environmental and cultural issues at play. My heart sank while reading the news articles and seeing pictures of the burning canopies, making me confused as to how people could let this happen!

Slash and burn, a process of deforestation, is used widely by ranchers to clear the rainforest and create pastures for cattle. Fires often occur around the edges of the rainforest because the developers will cut the trees down and let the land dry out then set fire to remove remaining vegetation. However, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), in 2019 there have been over 80,000 fires in Brazil, an almost 80% increase from 2018, with the most intensified fires this past month. Brazilians didn’t need to read the data to figure that one out as the skies across São Paolo, Brazil’s largest city, turned black with smoke at 3pm on August 19th.

The increase in fires has been allowed by the new president Jair Bolsonaro’s administration who see protected rainforests as an economic obstacle, and therefore pledged to open the Amazon up for development. The President, known as “Trump of the Tropics,” denied the data mentioned earlier and fired the chief of INPE accusing him of falsified fire data, which is collected by a satellite that has no human influence. Ricardo Salles, appointed Minister of the Environment (yet he’s a climate change-denier), tweeted that dry weather, increased wind, and heat caused the fires, which is true of natural fires. However, the smoke-filled air was not caused naturally, but rather a direct result of human influence on the rainforest. Brazil has experienced a complete 180 degree flip in their environmental policy since the previous administration made efforts to slow deforestation and fight climate change. Now, the tables have turned with new administration barely holding the reins back to fight illegal logging, ranching, and mining. Since taking office in January Brazil’s part of the Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover.

Being thousands of miles away, in a different country, run by different politicians it can be hard for people to relate to suffering Brazilians and wrap their head around the immense global impact that this fire can have on all our lives and the Earth’s own wellbeing. Trees uptake carbon dioxide, a planet-warming greenhouse gas, acting as a carbon sink that greatly slows climate change. By burning the forests, the opposite occurs. If the Amazon were to disappear, billions of tons of carbon would be released, accompanied by air pollution and massive biodiversity loss; the transformation of rainforest to desert land would be a result. Scientists warn us that the Amazon has a tipping point of no return, which may be near or already surpassed. I am not giving up hope and neither should you because you can be part of the change everyday. (read the takeaways down below)

Brazil is the world’s largest beef producer and exporter, according to the USDA, producing 9.9 million metric tons in 2018. Cattle production is the main driver for deforestation of the Amazon. The United States suspended beef imports since June 2017 due to food-safety concerns, but President Trump and Brazil’s new president have talked about trade negotiations and removing this suspension. Animal agriculture is being practiced unsustainably on a large scale that has and will continue to have negative environmental and health effects. Eat less meat or none at all— step outside of your comfort zone and explore the world’s plant-based cuisine! #MeatlessMonday

The fires have gotten less news time than the burning of Notre Dame’s roof. People close to me haven’t even heard of the fires, and frankly I don’t blame anyone for not knowing. When I tried googling the "Amazon fire" the first results that popped up were about the tablet made by Amazon. It’s hard to stay up-to-date with news local, national, and global, but I believe this deserves time to be talked about since it affects all of our futures. If this is your first or twentieth article you’ve seen about the Amazon, I thank you for reading and highly encourage you to rethink what you consume from material goods to animal products. And if you don’t want to change your consumption habits, then you most certainly can relate to something we all need— something the Amazon enables: breathing.

Every living organism breathes to sustain life. The Amazon Rainforest acts as the lungs of the planet.

It’s not just the Amazon that’s in trouble. Dr. Nepstad, an environmental scientist who studies the Amazon, has seen similar ecological threats happening to rainforests in Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These places may not be in my backyard, but my heart still goes out to the trees growing tall after hundreds of years, exotic and key-stone species that require such a niche environment they can’t survive elsewhere, to the indigenous tribes who respect the land and have immense ecological knowledge, and to the locals who can only do so much to protest such destruction.


  • Politics are tricky: Voting will occur next year for the United States. Everyone’s voice counts so educate yourself on the environmental policies of candidates and go out and vote! We want an administration that protects our beautiful lands and the future of humanity.

  • Consider what you consume: animal products, plastics, fast-fashion, understand that everything has a price and the majority of products come at the cost of environmental damage and underpaid workers.

  • Share your thoughts with others! Spark a conversation beyond small talk because this world needs a wake up call and you can be that alarm in someone’s life! #BeTheChange

The rainforest with all its mysteries and colorful creatures has always been a childhood fascination. I wrote this article not to ignite fear, but educate and inspire readers to live consciously. Every action has a reaction #NewtonsThirdLaw. Move the culture forward with your everyday actions and intentions!

Live Dirty, Eat Clean & Green

Lizzie Shutt


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