So far, 2020 has tested humanity with extraordinary twists and turns, including the recent dreadful events in the Amazon rainforest.
This year began with horrific fires, escalated deregulation, and most recently, the arrival of COVID-19 in indigenous communities. As you can see, there is still a lot that needs to be done to protect the world’s most important ecosystem. In honor of Earth Day last week, I wanted to address the current situation in the Amazon and what everyday people can do to help. There is still some hope and further action that we can take while in quarantine.
Let’s remind ourselves that Earth Day should be celebrated everyday, and furthermore, indigenous people should be at the forefront of the celebration. For centuries, indigenous people have fought for the protection of their ancestral lands and are the main reason why much of the biodiverse Amazon rainforest still exists. According to the Amazon Aid Foundation,
“There are 160 different individual societies within the borders of the Brazilian Amazon that speak 195 different languages.” who inhabit “20% of the rainforest”.
The U.N. extinction report also states, “that lands under indigenous management fare far better than regions where native territorial rights are not respected.” Therefore, we must center the environmental cause around honoring indigenous land and human rights. Unfortunately, the percentage of Amazon land inhabited by indigenous people continues to decrease everyday, especially with Brazil’s current political state that does little to heed it.
Through all of this destruction, you may be wondering what protections of the land and people, if any, are in place? Article 23 of Brazil’s 1988 constitution states that
“The indigenous peoples have the right to their social organization, customs, languages, beliefs and traditions, and their original rights over the lands that they have traditionally occupied, it being the duty of the federal government to demarcate these lands, protect them and ensure that all their properties and assets are respected.”
This article is monumental because for the first time in Brazilian public history, autonomous indigenous land and human rights are recognized. With further protection, comes less exploitation and destruction of the rainforest. Article 23 gives the government the responsibility of making sure “traditionally occupied” lands are demarcated; however, the current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, just doesn’t seem to care.
President Bolsonaro repeatedly supports opening up the Amazon rainforest to the economic market and ignores Article 23 with ignorant statements such as, “Today Indigenous people are struggling, and the emancipation of these people is only possible through economic means.” As stated in Time magazine, with
“The protection of the Brazilian military, farmers have set tens of thousands of forest fires.”
Leading to a huge increase in deforestation and rapid escalation of climate change. Loggers and ranchers illegally infiltrate and clear indigenous land in the Amazon rainforest to meet the demands of the beef/cattle industry. However, the loggers are not the only ones to blame. According to the OECD, Brazil is the largest exporter of beef, but Hong Kong receives 24 % of Brazil’s beef exports and the United States is the largest consumer per thousand tonnes. Excessive beef consumption worldwide is a very large contributor to deforestation.
As a result of the violations to the Brazilian constitution, many indigenous lives have already been lost. Brazil’s major news source, Globo, states that the deaths of indigenous leaders due to land conflict is the highest in over 11 years. This statistic is heartbreaking and unacceptable. On top of violent land disputes, indigenous communities are now also losing lives to COVID-19. According to CNN, the first death in the remote indigenous tribe, Yanomami, is due to further “economic development” in the Amazon that led to increased forced contact between remote tribes and outsiders. The arrival of COVID-19 caused by illegal land disputes and accelerated deforestation has put already extremely vulnerable communities at an even higher risk. The situation is getting very desperate as the Brazilian government continues to violate their constitution.
Here are 7 ways that you can help:
- Educate yourselves on the situation at hand.
- Spread the word and start conversations with your family, friends, and colleagues.
- Talk about the illegal logging and agribusiness on indigenous territory and cite its violation of Article 23.
- Call or write to your representative and make sure that their agenda prioritizes curbing climate change and promoting fact based science.
- Omit beef from your diet or buy local sustainable beef.
- Support indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest through financial means by donating to organizations that prioritize the protection of indigenous people in the Amazon.
- Share these organizations and fundraisers through social media and email.
Here are some organizations to check out:
- The Amazon Frontlines has a fundraiser related to COVID-19 in the indigenous communities. Their fund spends money on prevention and emergency assistance to collect medical supplies and make info pamphlets in local languages.
- Amazon Watch,
- CASA Socio-Environmental Fund
- Socio-Environmental Institute
The last three organizations were compiled by one of my favorite news comedians, Hasan Minhaj, from his Netflix show, “The Patriot Act”. Hasan has a very informative episode about the crisis in the Amazon. His absurd humor is an engaging way to spark interest on this issue that at first might seem so far away from us.
We must not forget that the Amazon is the Earth’s lungs and without her protection the effects of climate change will continue to escalate at great speed. This year’s Earth Day reminds us of how much is at stake and that mother nature needs our help and fierce dedication.