The Amazon Is Burning, What Can We Do About It?

You may or may not be aware: the Amazon rainforest is being ravaged by immense fires, largely caused by industrial activities and large-scale agriculture (mainly palm, soy oil, and cattle-ranching) that intentionally start fires to clear land for agriculture. Why do we care? The trees of the Amazon sequester about 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide from the air (though this percentage is now thought to be overestimated). Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” that absorbs and traps the Sun’s light, contributing to an increase in Earth’s average global temperatures, which causes extreme weather events, rising sea levels (goodbye Venice!), and shifts in habitats and wildlife populations (source: National Geographic).

These fires have grown so uncontrollably that world leaders at this past weekend’s G7 summit earmarked $22 million in aid for Brazil. Besides waiting for Brazil’s President Bolsonaro to formally accept this financial support to combat the blazes that has begun to choke the air of neighboring countries like Bolivia, here are ways to help, big and small (no affiliate links on this page):

  • Donate to the World Wildlife Fund’s emergency fund to fight the fires. 100% of donations will go directly to the response and recovery in the Earth's largest rain forest. You can learn more about the fund here.

  • Support carbon neutral companies and/or opt to offset your carbon emissions when you travel.

    • Since September 2018, Lyft has committed to being a 100% carbon neutral neutral company by purchasing carbon emission offsets that work through the “direct funding of emission mitigation efforts, including the reduction of emissions in the automotive manufacturing process, renewable energy programs, forestry projects, and the capture of emissions from landfills” (source: John Zimmer & Logan Green, Lyft Co-Founders).

    • Cooleffect.org helps you calculate how many tons of emissions your most recent flights have incurred, and allows you to atone for them by funding projects that reduce carbon emissions. “More than 90% of each dollar you donate goes directly to helping our projects, with a small fee of only 9.87% to help us cover credit charges, research, and possible registration fees.”

    • From Forbes: “101 Companies Committed to Reducing Their Carbon Footprint

  • Support companies that help the planet.

    • 1% For The Planet is an international organization whose members contribute at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental nonprofits.

      • Notable members: Patagonia, Caudalie, Klean Kanteen, Brand-less, Avocado Green Mattress (I bought my current mattress from them—Rainforest Alliance certified latex, GOTS- OEKO- certified organic cotton/wool, upcycled steel coils), King Arthur Flour (their white whole wheat pastry flour is the perfect alternative to conventional all-purpose flour), Terrasoul Superfoods, Three Twins Ice Cream, Alter Eco, KeepCup. You can check whether your favorite vendor is on the list here.

    • The Rainforest Alliance seal appears on products that are sustainably sourced, meaning “some or all of the ingredients are sourced from farms that comply with the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network, which aims to promote sustainability in farming and protect farmers, forests, wildlife, and local communities”. Full product directory here.

    • The Forest Stewardship Council ensures that its members source wood from “responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits”. Full product directory here.

  • Support your favorite nonprofit with every Amazon purchase.

    • Smile Always is a Chrome plugin that automatically redirects your to smile.amazon.com, where 0.5% of eligible Amazon purchases are donated to the charity of your choice, with no markup in fees or extra steps when you checkout. It’s the same products, same prices, and same vendors. I usually choose the World Wildlife Fund as my beneficiary, but any of the other organizations listed on this page are great, too—Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Cool Effect.

  • Make greener lifestyle choices. The WWF has some good suggestions:

    • Learn how your food and other purchases have been produced. Is your furniture, for example, made of wood from the Amazon? And, if so, is the wood sustainably harvested and certified to prove it?. One of the best ways to protect forests like the Amazon is to buy products that have the FSC® label.

    • Reduce your use of fossil fuels. The less fossil fuels used, the less impact climate change will have on the Amazon and other important natural areas. Burning fossil fuels causes carbon dioxide to be released into the air, which acts as a greenhouse gas that absorbs and traps the Sun’s light, raising Earth’s global temperatures.

    • Support and demand renewable energy be part of the grid in your area.

    • Turn off electric appliances when you’re not using them.

    • Choose green energy providers for your household and take public transport or ride your bike to work when possible.

    • Reduce your paper and wood consumption or buy rainforest safe products through the Rainforest Alliance.

    • Reduce your beef consumption. Rainforest beef is typically found in fast-food hamburgers or processed beef products.

    • Sign a petition and make your voice heard.

  • Reduce your food waste. Less food rotting in landfills = less methane emitted into the atmosphere. From the WWF: “About 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the food system could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.” What’s bad about methane and greenhouse gases in general? They absorb and trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

    • Plan ahead and buy only what you need. Going to the store without a plan or on an empty stomach can lead to buying more than we need. To keep your kitchen on track, try to eat leftovers, think of meals you might eat out, and avoid unnecessary purchases by planning your grocery list ahead of time.

    • Use your freezer. While there are plenty of benefits to eating fresh food, frozen foods can be just as nutritious. They also stay edible for much longer. A lot of seafood, for example, is frozen before it reaches your supermarket and then thawed and put on display. That means it will only stay fresh for a few days. By buying frozen seafood, you can extend the shelf life of the product considerably. Cooking and freezing food—especially produce—before it goes bad is a great way to avoid having to toss it.

    • Be creative with leftovers. Before you shop, use the food you already have. Websites like Big Oven, Supercook, and MyFridgeFood allow you to search for recipes based on ingredients already in your kitchen. You can also use apps like Epicurious and Allrecipes to make the most of what's in your fridge and pantry.

    • Blend, bake, or boil. Fruits and vegetables that are beyond ripe may not look pretty, but that doesn't mean they can't still taste delicious in recipes. Try using your wilting, browning, or imperfect produce to make sweet smoothies, bread, jams, sauces, or soup stocks.

    • Talk it up. Preventing food waste is the most effective way to shrink its impact on the planet. If we avoid producing food that we don't eat, we can save the land, water, and energy that would have been used to make it. And awareness is a good first step; according to ReFED, educating consumers about food waste could prevent 2.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Donate to Protect An Acre (PAA) of rainforest through the Rainforest Action Network. From RAN’s site: “Since it began in 1993, RAN’s PAA program has distributed more than one million dollars in grants to more than 200 frontline communities and Indigenous-led organizations to protect millions of acres of forests around the world. PAA is core to RAN’s commitment to supporting the livelihoods and right to self-determination of forest communities, promoting safe and respectful labor rights, and fighting against human rights abuses frequently associated with logging, pulp and paper mills, mining and other extractive industries.