Our House Is on Fire

words by Willow Defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

By now, you have likely read about the devastating fires raging in the Amazon.

You might have read about how the rainforest has been burning at a record-breaking rate for 17 days now, and how the smoke can be seen from space. You might have seen photographs of trees razed to the ground, and the midday sun completely vanished in San Paulo. You might have also read that the number of fires in the Amazon is up by 85% from the same time period last year.


It’s also likely that you first read about these developments on social media rather than a major news outlet, thanks to a few unsettling—and telling—circumstances. First, despite the fact that this particular chain of fires has been going off for weeks, most news outlets began to report on the story in the last 48 hours. Second is the fact that a quick search of “amazon fire” or “fire in the amazon” yields a forest of articles about deals on Amazon’s Fire tablet, rather than an ecosystem in crisis.


Amazon Watch, one NGO that champions the rights of indigenous peoples living in the Amazon basin, has asked Jeff Bezos to use some of the company’s resources toward protecting its namesake ecosystem in the past. But the company has yet to disclose its carbon footprint, or any of its sustainability practices for that matter. As one of the world’s most massive retailers, shipping millions of packages around the world every day, the fact that Amazon has the name that it does and hasn’t made significant steps toward greening its transportation operations—or at least making up for it in other ways—is appalling.


Meanwhile, right wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has gone so far as to say that his critics have started the fires to make him look bad—despite the fact that rolling back rainforest protection and enforcement in favor of advancing industry was a pillar of his campaign (sound familiar, America?).


For the 400 plus tribes that live in the Amazon, protecting their land has only gotten harder since his election. “We know what happens when the state does nothing,” said Marcelino Da Silva of the Apurinг tribe in the Brazilian Amazon in a recent interview. “We know how quickly the forest can disappear.”


Since #AmazonRainforest started trending on Twitter this week, with many users outraged that they were just finding out about the fires, news outlets began to pick up the story, and now at least one link on the first page of search results for “amazon” is about the devastation facing the lungs of the earth, responsible for 20% of our planet’s oxygen.


So this is what we’re up against. And if you’re wondering how you can help, there are plenty of places to start. Donate to groups like Amazon Watch to fight for indigenous rights, Rainforest Action Network and Rainforest Trust to protect acres of land, or One Tree Planted to get more trees back in the ground. Get educated about the candidates running for election in the United States, and their positions on climate change. Become a more conscious consumer when it comes to the corporations you shop from, buying local when you can. Keep watching this story, and notice how and for how long coverage continues. Keep spreading the truth, for this is the power of the people: When leadership, corporations, and even the media fail us, we use our individual flames and together, we ignite a movement. We fight fire with fire.

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