Anjali Figueira-Santos: Amazon fires are not just Brazil’s problem, but also our own
The fires of the Amazon rainforest have become the talk of the world. Online posts, debates, and news have spread around the issue that has ignited fear in anyone who has read about it.
Since the beginning of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term, the fires have burned around 1,330 square miles of the rainforest, according to an article by Aaron Mak at Slate.com.
Brazilian citizens have risen in protest.
Growing up in Brazil, I’ve been able to see the separation that exists between the people. There exists a higher class of citizens who are vastly different from the poorer, more cultural and traditional communities. With the new president, this separation only grows larger, and issues such as the growing fires are falling away.
People who are poor and simply trying to support their families aren’t going to concern themselves with protecting the rainforest. Wealthier citizens, who are profiting off its destruction, hold a similar disregard.
Like with the United States, Brazil is experiencing serious political division. Both countries now fall into this pattern of pushing aside issues that need to be tackled right away, simply because they feel more strongly about something else. This division has been greatly highlighted in light of the fires. Many blame Bolsanaro for their cause, and for the most part, they’re absolutely right. His leadership has facilitated fires in the rainforest, and more than once he has supported the destruction of the Amazon for oil, lumber, and cattle.
Others have directed their anger to the farmers living in the Amazon, who themselves are setting the fires. What’s important to consider here is that these farmers are extremely poor. They have barely enough from their land to feed their family, and if burning another chunk of land is going to improve their situation, so be it.
The problem with our understanding of the issue unfortunately relates to how it spreads through media. Facts about the fires are thrown out in a sea of posts. This isn’t to say that what people are doing now isn’t valid, because they’re spreading the word and that’s an important aspect of change. What isn’t happening though is that actual change.
It’s so easy for people to ignore big issues such as these. To cast them to the side with a simple “that doesn’t affect me.”
I believe that a lot of people feel that the responsibility of this change is on the Brazilian people — and it absolutely is — but some of it also belongs to us. When viewing an issue like that, it’s so easy to distance yourself. So easy for people on other continents to cast it off as an issue that South America needs to rectify. Countries in the region could further find it an issue belonging solely to Brazil, where most of the Amazon sits. Citizens of the country could take a look at those fires and think that it’s the responsibility of the government itself.
Suddenly, an issue which affects all of us is somehow left to a few select individuals who likely are going to have difficulty doing anything at all.
I haven’t spoken to my friends who live in Brazil in a while, but I do remember what their situation is like. Living in the outskirts of a large city, they’re isolated from their country and its issues. Beyond retweeting/reposting about the fire, there’s not much else that they can do.
Who’s going to notice that they’re skipping school in protest, when they have to skip anyway to work and support their family? What media will cover their comments, when there’s no media anywhere around?
It’s clear that we all need to step up to make some changes when it comes to protecting this invaluable resource. Regardless of whose responsibility it is, we need to step up — not as another country, but as a connected people to support our remaining resources.
This issue does affect you, it does reach you; so what can you do to help change it?
Anjali Figueira-Santos is a Forest Charter School student and intern at The Union. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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