Fires in the Amazon and DRC – A Local Look
By Elliot Connor
2019 CoalitionWILD Ambassador
I’ll skip the dramatic prelude, because you’ve heard of the fires. They’re in the Amazon and in the Congo – the two lungs of our planet – and they’re choking us none-too-slowly. We interviewed two of our young leaders, Rafaela Sheiffer (Brazil) and Yannick Mutambo (DR Congo), to get their on-the-ground and local perspective on what’s taking place.
The bottom line is this: it’s bad.
These fires are mostly started by subsistence farmers in a short-sighted effort to improve their pastures, yet they are having the exact opposite effect. Rainforest just isn’t meant to burn – it’s naturally humid and self-regulating by a complex water cycle that replenishes the abundance of growth and sustains all the many animals that call it home.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yannick sees these agricultural burn techniques entering traditional farming practices in his country. Farmers who aggressively burn their lands are becoming the envy of others because of their ability to quickly replenish soils but also because the tactic is being used in domestic disputes and as a tool for desperate hunters. Seen as a “less demanding method,” the practice is being adopted by more and more farmers. With this “new engine of deforestation,” poorly controlled fires then burn out of control and sometimes even cause human fatalities. This is what we are seeing today on enormous scales.
Brazil’s Rafaela adds that we don’t yet fully understand the full scale of impact these burns are having. Did you know that the Amazon is fertilized by sand from the Sahara?
“Since this is recent research, we understand how much we don’t know about this huge organism,” and with the Amazon’s carbon storage totaling 100 years’ worth of US emissions, the consequences of altering this major ecosystem and planetary lifeline could be devastating. The Amazon Rainforest stabilizes the rainfall patterns across entire continents, releasing 6,000,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of water into the atmosphere every day.
So what’s the solution?
The first step requires everyone to recognize the magnitude of the issue in order to put the necessary manpower and resources in place to fix it. Education is a great place to start. Begin by reading up on the facts about the rainforest from sources like BBC News, the New York Times, and Mongabay. Share this information with friends and family to increase the global awareness and urgency for action.
Learn about forest-friendly farming techniques, look out for certified wood products, spread the word about the benefits of , eat less red meat, buy sustainable palm oil products, and support organizations working to save the rainforests (Amazon Watch, Rainforest Trust, and Rainforest Foundation). Also learn about the big companies that are supporting these unsustainable farming practices and vote with your dollar – choose to boycott buying their products or from their stores, or even write a letter to these companies demanding change!
Conservation and protected area management works! Working with farmers to promote sustainable land usage and protect local biodiversity helps to “preserve soils, flora and fauna; reduce erosion; conserve water; and reduce the risk of natural disasters.” There’s opportunity for income not only through improved crop yields, but also through ecotourism growth in local communities.
We hear a lot of news about disastrous environmental destruction, but we must always remember that it is hope and innovation that we need most. Our young leaders are doing amazing work in their countries to improve the harmony between people and the planet, creating the answers that we all can be a part of, and delivering huge positive impacts globally.
Yannick and Rafaela agree these spaces are Earth’s main life-support systems, and that we must all take care of them to create the prosperous future we want and need.
Elliot is the founder of Human Nature Projects, a charity aiming to reconnect people to the planet, creating a conservation community which is both accessible and empowering to those involved. He is the Australian Country Mobiliser for the Youth for Our Planet movement, Ambassador to the Laurence Anthony Earth Organization and a recent addition to the Jane Goodall Institute Australia’s National Youth Leadership Council. Elliot seeks to act as a voice for biodiversity, for the environment – all of those downtrodden, unrepresented lifeforms which suffer at the hands of mankind’s advancement. He believes passionately that society as a whole must soon recognize its ties with the natural world and act on these if we are ever to achieve the prosperous future we all aspire towards.