The World Needs The Amazon, But Right Now The Amazon Needs Us
While global leaders fiddle as the world burns, citizens are acting to support indigenous tribes and ecosystems.
Global Wildfires Are Raging, Leaving Long-Lasting Damage
By Robert Walker
The world is burning.
Record or near-record temperatures, combined with drought in many areas, are contributing to yet another record-setting summer for wildfires. California was largely spared the summer, but has raged ferociously this fall, while wildfires in the Amazon rainforest and in or near the Arctic Circle are ringing alarm bells, as is a sharp increase in wildfires in Southern Europe.
As many of these fires are occurring in remote areas, they may not pose a major threat to densely populated areas, but rural populations, particularly Indigenous groups, are being affected. And whatever the immediate human toll, the fires do not bode well for humanity’s future.
Scientists are trying to determine the cause of all these wildfires. In Greenland and Alaska, record or near-record high temperatures have contributed to the upsurge in wildfires. Similar conditions may account for what may turn out to be a record year for wildfires in Siberia, where the smoke generated by the fires is covering a land area about the size of Europe. In Brazil, however, political extremism is the culprit, not nature. A relaxation of environmental regulations by the pro-business Jair Bolsonaro government has given ranchers and farmers license to set wildfires for purposes of converting tropical forest to agricultural use.
The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) reports that, as of August, wildfires in Europe this year are occurring at a rate three times higher than the average over the past decade. The World Wildlife Fund recently looked at the sharp uptick of wildfires in Southern Europe and concluded that 96 percent of those fires are attributable to human activity; only 4 percent are caused by natural occurrences. Drought and scorching heat, however, are fanning the flames.
A technical report written for the European Commission in 2017 warned that the danger of forest fires driven by weather is likely to increase with the climate changes affecting countries in the Mediterranean—especially Spain, Portugal and Turkey—but also including Southern Italy and parts of Greece. The size of this year’s outbreak appears to confirm that diagnosis.
Wildfires, it must be emphasized, are nothing new, and it is even possible in some areas that climatic changes will reduce the risk of wildfires, but the environmental stakes today are extraordinarily high.
In the Amazon, wildfires are contributing to soil erosion and localized droughts and, as a result, accelerating the eventual collapse of the Amazon ecosystem, the world’s biggest carbon sink. That would constitute a global disaster, as the Amazon Basin absorbs an estimated one-quarter of the carbon dioxide released every year from the burning of fossil fuels.
Wildfires in Siberia may hasten the melting of permafrost, thus releasing the carbon stored there, but Siberian wildfires may also be accelerating the loss of Greenland’s icecap. Smoke from the Siberian wildfires of 2012 raised alarm bells when 95 percent or more of the Greenland ice sheet experienced some degree of melting as a result of the soot deposited by the Siberian wildfires.
This summer, wildfires spread in Greenland as well as Siberia. In Greenland, it’s not the forests that are burning; Greenland has very little forest cover. It’s the grasses and other ground cover that have become fire tinder.
Because of the wildfires and record-setting heat in Greenland this summer, scientists are warning that an estimated 400 billion metric tons of ice could either melt or be calved off. If the Siberian wildfires and the hot summers in Greenland become common occurrences, the implications for sea rise would be staggering, as the complete melting of Greenland’s ice cap would raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet.
The world may be burning, but climate change is still not a burning issue for President Trump, many of his allies in Congress, and even some parliamentarians and political leaders in Europe.
Climate change denial may actually be on the wane in the U.S., where wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and heatwaves are beginning to erase public doubts, particularly in the Western states. But right-wing leaders in Europe, including Italy’s Matteo Salvini, are seeking to undermine the European Union’s commitment to fighting climate change, and depending on how strong the populist winds blow, they may ultimately succeed. If so, hopes of fulfilling the Paris climate agreement will fade.
Time is slowly running out. The world may be on fire, and the alarms have sounded, but the fire brigades have yet to arrive.
Robert Walker is the president of the Population Institute, a nonprofit organization, located in Washington D.C., striving to keep humanity in balance with nature. Follow the organization on Twitter: @PopInstitute.
Am I Ready To Be My Sibling’s Ally?
By Christopher Gruener
As the season of giving thanks approaches and reflecting on our history with the indigenous people of this land, it is a good moment to ask ourselves if — and how — we will choose to be in a state of alliance with those members of our human family who call the Amazon forest “home.”
In the Old Testament’s creation story it is said that sibling rivalry led to Cain killing Able. When the Creator asked Cain where his brother was, Cain answered, “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?” But the Creator wasn’t asking Cain to be his brother’s keeper. That was Cain’s guilty and fearful projection. Creator was really asking, “Why have you failed to be your brother’s ally?” as my minister explained one Sunday morning.
My minister also offered this quote from theologian Frederick Beuchner: “We know when we have met our true calling when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. That is, when the work that we most need to do fits with what the world most needs to have done.”
If you have been following the recent news about widespread fires destroying large areas of the Brazilian Amazon you know already that the rainforest and its inhabitants are under siege and at a whole new level of devastation. As you have been hearing this news, have you felt a calling to align yourself with the forest and its inhabitants? Here is a link to invitations from South American Indigenous leaders to join them in just such an alliance.
Recently, I received a disturbing email from Imagine Peace & Plenty reader, Marty Schotz. Marty encouraged me to read this article: Convivial War: How Wall Street Recolonized Brazil (Part One). I hope you will take the time to read this piece as it shines light on the big picture of how our government and various business interests have worked hand in hand to undermine Central and South American democracy in the pursuit of economic gain, and with no regard for ecological responsibility nor the rights of indigenous peoples.
Brazil’s relatively new president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, is no friend of the forest either. As this Guardian article notes: “Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.”
From the YouTube video (11min20sec) link below and the map underneath it, anyone willing to look, can see where we are heading…“Threat to the Amazon Rainforest – A New Climate”
Does it break your heart to contemplate how our misused tax dollars, our consumer spending and our fossil fuel dependency are destroying the forest and all its inhabitants? If so, how are you feeling called by that urgent feeling in your gut to help? Are you prepared to be your sibling’s ally? If so, please consider taking any or all of the following action steps:
1) Confront corporate misconduct in relationship to our planet’s rainforests; join The Rainforest Action Network.
2) Align yourself with South American indigenous communities; join The Pachamama Alliance
3) Sign up for e-mailings from the Sunrise Movement here. These young people are spearheading the work of liberating us all from the Earth destroying grip of the fossil fuel industry. They deserve our support!
4) For a step into indigenous Amazonian spiritual and cultural traditions, attend a Rainforest Medicine Council Gathering this coming December.
5) Go to www.imaginepeaceandplenty.com and tour the Rainforest Revival section for more information about threats to Earth’s rainforests and action steps we can all take in solidarity with our forest siblings!
Because we are awakening to our connection with all of life, we are called to be light in the darkness.
Christopher Gruener MA, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor, an ecologically and politically focused activist, a sustainability oriented entrepreneur and a person who considers kindheartedness to be the highest spiritual value. He can be reached at 617-965-6552 or www.crossroads-counseling-services.com.