By Kelsey Corley
Throughout the last year, 87,000 fires have circulated in the Amazon rainforest destroying over two million acres of forest. This is a 76% increase from the summer of 2018 to the summer of 2019, although the exact numbers are widely contested. The vast majority of these fires, however, were intentionally set to clear land for farming or ranching purposes. The process, referred to as slash and burn agriculture, has been greatly criticized by several environmental groups and has been outlawed in most of the Amazon Basin since 1965, though the practice has continued to destroy the ecologically invaluable habitat.
Many international climate experts turn a suspect eye unto the Brazilian government. The new President, Jair Bolsonaro, sworn in on January 1, 2019, has often publicly criticized environmental groups working to preserve the Amazon and the indigenous tribes who reside there. Jair Bolsonaro is a right-wing politician who has continuously shown denial in the global climate issue. His presidential campaign was targeted at the large ranching, logging, and mining industries of the country with promises to promote the growth and expansion of their capital.
Since his inauguration, the development of the portion of the Amazon rainforest which resides in the borders of Brazil, about 2/3, has dramatically increased. In less than a year, deforestation rates have increased by 15% or eradication of 1,700 square miles of rainforest annually. Though a significant portion of this destruction is done through illegal means the government seems at odds to do anything about it. His administration has even gone so far as to make public claims that NGOs such as Greenpeace and Guardians of the Brazilian Rainforest are stunting Brazil’s economy by lobbying against the development of the land available in the Amazon, which he sees as an untapped economic resource.
But the fate of the Amazon rainforest affects far more than just Brazil, in fact, far more than just South American countries in general. The Amazon affects global levels of oxygen production and carbon absorption from the atmosphere, which in turn affects the global climate. This an international affair, which warrants international input– such as that of students. So, I went around campus and tried to get a good representation of how our own student body felt on the subject of the fires blazing across the Amazon Rainforest and was met with some very intriguing responses.
One key problem most students I asked (approximately 84%) noted was the lack of media coverage on the subject. Notably, two students, Courtney Harvey and Gracie Worley, pointed out that the majority of the “news” they had seen, had been memes calling for attention on the disaster. It was possibly due to this reason that a low amount of only 15% of students polled had heard anything about the Brazilian government having a connection or that the fires were intentionally set.
Though some students did have a thing or two to say on that matter. Austin Huff stated that he was uncomfortable with someone like Bolsonaro controlling the Amazon, “He’s pro-industry, not pro-environment.” Samantha Oplinger commented on the Brazilian President, calling him a “corrupt individual” but pointed out that the problem was not with one person or country, that it is systematic.
About 53% of the students polled agreed with her and believe that there is a fundamental problem with climate change denial. In fact, many students brought up different but important factors of environmental protection that they see as problems, such as Lauren Campbell who stated that she was frustrated with the lack of recycling options available locally, which reflects findings that show that 69% of the students polled stated that waste was an issue. And roughly 46% of students brought up the need for clean energy alternatives.
Just as melting ice caps aren’t just a concern for polar bears, the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest is something that will impact the global community. So, what then is the hope for the future? Is there any left? When I asked this question to one group of students I was met with a chorus of monotone answers such as “bleak,” “grim,” and one curious “sonnet 50,” thus perhaps summarizing a generation’s attitude toward what 90% of students polled agreed was a climate crisis. Yet, there are answers.
There are several things that we as King students, thousands of miles removed, can still do to impact the situation going on in the Amazon. Simply reducing your consumption of things such as paper, wood, plastic, and beef would decrease the demand and thus not contribute to the further development of the area that is done to produce such goods. Secondly, you can support businesses that have ethical policies already in place in the Amazon, for example, businesses that supply products with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) seal. Finally, you could donate to one of the many organizations and non-profits that contribute their time and energy to helping conserve the Amazon Rainforest such as World Wildlife Fund, Amazon Watch, and Rainforest Foundation U.S. These actions, taken by a significant amount of people, along with continued global pressure on world leaders to do right by the Amazon and those who depend on it, have the possibility to lead to real change.