Amazon Fires Cartoon

Through fundraisers, activism and open forums, students from Bolivia and Brazil are working to combat the effects of the Amazon Rainforest fires, which continue to burn in their home countries.

International Bolivian Organization members will send $400 they raised in a bake sale Sept. 5 to Bolivian citizens, sophomore Nicolas Villarreal said. Members have not decided if they should donate the money to a group that puts the fires out or if they should send the money to people who have lost their homes. 

Villarreal wants to help out anyway he can, especially because he is not in the country, he said. The Amazon fires, which started in August, are affecting both the global climate and citizens’ livelihood, but Villarreal thinks people only supported the cause for a short time.

“What saddens us or makes us worry a little bit is that it was just a trend for most people to support us,” Villarreal said. “It’s no longer trending … then it might as well be not happening anymore, which is a total lie.”

Although Villarreal’s family is safe, he has friends who have lost their houses in the fires, he said. It shocks him to hear of what is happening, but he is glad to know that people will help others in need.

“Even though it hurts me to say my country is still under this problem, we haven’t managed to control the fires,” Villarreal said. “It’s going to take decades for us to be able to go back to what (the rainforest) was a few months ago, which is crazy to see.”

Junior Briana Veiga is also concerned about the impact of the fires, she said. Veiga’s family in Brazil is not in danger, but she is worried about smoke spreading throughout the country.

Veiga is president of the Brazilian Student Organization and has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Brazil, she said. She thinks informing more people of the situation would be helpful.

“The Amazon holds a lot of different species that we haven’t even discovered yet, along with the indigenous people who live there,” Veiga said. “There’s been some publicity on it, but not as much as there should be.”

The Brazilian Student Organization is small, so it is difficult for members to meet and plan a fundraiser, Veiga said. They might fundraise in the future, but they are planning to have current event discussions about Brazil, including topics like the Amazon fires. 

Burning the rainforest releases a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, leading to an increase in global temperature, said Katia De Avila Fernandes, an assistant professor in geosciences and a meteorologist from Brazil. 

“Having open discussions that involve the global climate, the regional climate and engage all sectors of society has great potential for bringing attention to the problem of deforestation and fires in the Amazon,” Fernandes said. 

Timber cutting and land clearing are the main contributors to rainforest fires, said David Stahle, a geosciences professor who conducts research in the Amazon. 

“The rainforest doesn’t burn so easily without human assistance,” Stahle said. “The fires themselves aren’t really the problem; it’s the people.”

Deforestation frustrates Alejandro Delius, 40, who lives in La Paz, Bolivia, and he thinks the Amazon and other forests like Chiquitania should be protected, he said in a Facebook message.

“It’s barbaric, and no one said that man owns the planet,” Delius said. “The idea is to put settlers, cocoa leaf (farms), cows and industries on the land. That’s why they burned everything. None of them are interested in putting out the fire.”

Climate models suggest that if complete deforestation of the Amazon occurred, the area would change so drastically that a rainforest could never grow back, Stahle said. It would dry out the environment and worsen climate change.

Stahle thinks individuals can do a lot to conserve nature in the U.S. and abroad, he said. This includes supporting organizations, financially or otherwise, that are devoted to the rational management of natural resources. 

“The single most important thing we can do is protect the natural land that has not yet been cleared,” Stahle said. “It is possible to have your cake and eat it too. This means having an Amazonian forest cover that still produces food and fiber for society and still creates an economy in a sustainable way.”

Fernandes, who researches the impacts of Amazon fires, thinks the fires in the rainforest are unnatural and are related to human activities, she said. Wildfires are more prevalent during droughts, so the fires that started in August are unusual.

“We are seeing more people living there and you have more people exposed to the consequences of fires, like contamination by smoke,” Fernandes said.

The Forest Stewardship Council sets standards for responsible management of forests around the world, according to the Forest Stewardship Council. They certify forests that are responsibly managed, and have certified 380 million acres. Other organizations that Stahle thinks are important for environmental protection are The World Wildlife Fund and the National Audubon Society, he said. 

“We need to speak for nature,” Stahle said. “If we don't speak for nature, who’s going to? The voices of conservation have to be heard. You have to support those that are advancing the conservation of nature.”

Delius wanted to make a helpful impact toward a solution, so he had a concert with another musician in late September and donated the proceeds, he said.

“I’m worried about my country,” Delius said. “Even when the fire goes out, help will be needed for a long time.”

Tegan Shockley is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since 2017.

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