How to Help the Amazon Rain Forest As Brazil's Wildfires Ravage the 'Lungs of the Earth'

Fires raging across vast swathes of the Amazon have made international headlines this week, highlighting the plight of the world's largest tropical rain forest—which is under severe threat from human activities.

Data collected by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) revealed that that the Brazilian Amazon has experienced a record number of fires this year.

The latest figures come as concern grows over the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, which environmentalists have accused of encouraging deforestation and emboldening those who want to exploit the forest for commercial gain.

While there's not much you can do to stop the fires, there are several steps you can take to help reduce your impact on the Amazon, and indeed the rest of the word's rain forests, according to conservation non-profit Rainforest Action Network.

Cut down on the amount of paper and wood products that you buy

One of the main causes of deforestation in the Amazon is logging, which is driven by the high demand for wood-based products. Try reducing the amount of wood products that you purchase and make the most out of items that you have bought—for example, using both sides of a piece of paper.

Look out for alternative paper products which are made from non-tree-derived materials—such as hemp or waste straw—as well as paper with a high percentage of recycled materials. If you do want to purchase a wood product but you realize it has come from the Amazon, find out whether is has been sustainably harvested. If not, avoid it.

Reduce your fossil fuel consumption

Scientists think that climate change in conjunction with deforestation could create a series of feedback loops that will significantly increase the rate of forest loss in the Amazon, pushing it over a "tipping point" beyond which it will not be able to recover, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Data from Brazil's National Space Research Institute suggests that as temperatures increase in the region, between 30 and 60 percent of the rain forest could turn into dry savanna, pushing the forest over this tipping point.

The burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is one of the primary drivers of climate change, scientists say. So wherever possible, try to cut down on your carbon emissions—for example take a bike to work instead of a car, choose green energy providers and switch off electrical appliances when you're not using them.

Lower your beef consumption

Cattle ranching is another main driver of deforestation in the Amazon, with farmers cutting down vast swathes of the forest to make room for their animals—a problem that is particularly noticeable in Brazil. In fact, the country is the largest exporter of beef on the planet.

While the United States banned the import of fresh beef from Brazil in 2017 due to food safety concerns, the country still took in around 8,000 tonnes of processed beef—in the form of products such as corned beef and jerky—the FT reported, citing figures from Brazil's beef export association. These products are not labelled with their country of origin when they enter the U.S. meaning it is best to avoid them if you want to reduce your impact on the Amazon.

Hold businesses accountable

Educate yourself about the business practices of companies that are commercially involved in the Amazon. If you believe that a business is operating in manner that is environmentally irresponsible, make yourself heard: Contact the company to express your concern, call them out on social media, or organize a boycott.

Direct action has the power to transform how companies do business. In 1999, Home Depot—the single largest retailer of lumber in the world—agreed to phase out sales of old growth wood, or in other words, wood that comes from areas of forest which have developed over a long period of time and have not experienced significant disturbances, such as logging or fire. The company's decision was largely the result of a campaign led by grassroots activists.

Support charities which are working to preserve the Amazon

There are several charities which are working to preserve the Amazon rain forest. Donating to these non-profit organizations may be one of the best ways to support conservation efforts. The following Amazon-focused charities have all received a rating of at least three out of four stars from Charity Navigator—a website which rates non-profits on their financial health, accountability and transparency.

Amazon rainforest fire smoke
This natural-color image of smoke and fires in several states within Brazil including Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia was collected by NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP using the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on August 20, 2019. Although it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity it seems this year the number of fires may be record setting. According to Brazil’s space research center INPE almost 73,000 fires have been recorded so far this year. INPE is seeing an 83 percent increase over the same period in 2018. NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System EOSDIS

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