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#PrayForTheAmazon but who’s really praying?

The Sudan crisis, school shootings and the Amazon rainforest burning are all tragic events that have happened recently throughout the world. It’s nothing shy of upsetting and the hashtag #PrayForTheAmazon or changing Instagram profile pictures from a selfie to blue for Sudan are flooding social media platforms. But behind the screen, the reality is most people are sitting in bed, tweeting the hashtag, then going back to Snapchatting their crush.

With the most recent world tragedy, the burning of the Amazon rainforest, just about everyone is chiming in on social media to show how much of an “activist” they really are. However, is anyone aware of what’s going on, and how can the average person really make a difference while tweeting from bed almost 4,000 miles away?

The posts are helpful in spreading information, especially with being livid that the Amazon was burning for three weeks before it got any media coverage. But as people are posting away, they may not even have read into why it’s actually burning, what can be done about it, how it’s affecting the world, let alone that some of the photos people are reposting are from fires decades ago from another rainforest. Leonardo DiCaprio, a noted environmental activist as well as an actor, was even one of the celebrities posting misleading photos.

However, Carrie Freeman, a Georgia State professor who specializes in strategic communication regarding social justice and veganism, who has also published over 20 scholarly journals all relating to environmental issues, has read into the reality of the crisis.

“As the largest rainforest and one of the most diverse places on land, the Amazon affects the whole planetary ecosystem, affecting weather patterns, storing immense amounts of carbon which provides oxygen to stabilize the climate and provides a home to many indigenous human communities and to thousands of unique species,” she said.

Considering how far removed we are from South America, we may not realize how important the rainforest really is to us. With headlines all over the news like “The Amazon Cannot Be Recovered Once It’s Gone” and “The Amazon — an ecosystem on which the whole world depends,” the world is starting to gain a better understanding of how environmental issues are a real cause for concern.

 

There are about 74,000 fires across the Brazilian Amazon, and according to The New York Times, 26,000 of those were just in the month of August alone. With black smoke filling the skies of São Paulo, it’s so intense it can even be seen from space.

Jessica Jones, secretary of Georgia State’s Student Environmental Team, feels this issue is extremely important considering the Amazon is often referred to as the “Earth’s lungs.”

“The effects of the Amazon burning that I feel are psychological,” she said. “The Amazon is a place I have long dreamed about, and I think that, collectively, it has long represented a pristine and beautiful natural realm. To see it burning shines a light on how disastrously the globalization paradigm is affecting our environment.”

Currently, the Earth’s lungs are filling with toxic smoke that’s causing physical ailments such as pneumonia to double for locals in Brazil and indigenous people in the past month alone.

“The burnings push this issue to the forefront,” Jones said. “Nobody wants to see this fantastic place destroyed, and it calls into question what we as people are doing to our home. I think that a lot of Americans are probably going to feel a greater sense of urgency in regards to changing the institutions that allow for this sort of thing to happen. I can only imagine how people in Brazil and neighboring areas are affected by this, particularly indigenous people.”

While the media covers President Trump’s tweets every hour of the day, serious environmental issues appear to be on the back burner in the news. Freeman and Jones both agree it’s disappointing. Not only was the crisis covered three weeks after it started, but it has received much less coverage than the burning Notre Dame Cathedral.

Reid Williams, an environmental activist who’s been using his social media to spread awareness, knows how crucial the Amazon’s conservation is for us as well as making it known through the media.

“It’s really important to learn about what’s happening because the Amazon accounts for 20% of the oxygen we breathe,” he said. “To not cover something so heavily or take it seriously is a real gap in logic. When the cathedral was burning, they raised billions of dollars in days, whereas the rainforest took four weeks to raise $25 million.”

Freeman also agrees the media has trouble covering environmental issues, but giving the audience a clear visual of what’s going on and pushing towards having a main news beat regarding issues like climate change and mass extinction can help awareness. 

“To gain more traction, the media could try to personalize the stories by showcasing particular indigenous people who are affected and particular animal and plant species [that] are dying, injured or homeless,” Freeman said. 

Although it may be financially difficult for college students to book a $1,000 flight to Brazil to help stop the fires, social media awareness does make an impact and is a good place to start.

“Any way that the public can show interest in a cause and help with visuals, memes and hashtags go viral on social media — that is useful for putting environmentalism on the news and policy agenda in the forefront of society’s hearts and minds, reinforcing what we collectively say we value,” she said.

Jones, who actively uses her social media to express and explore environmental issues through her writing, film making, paintings and drawings, believes any sort of social media post can be inspiring and helpful.

“I think a hashtag like #PrayForTheAmazon shows that people care, which is important,” she said. “I hope that inspires action and puts pressure on the government to act. As everyday Americans, I think our best bet is electing people into office who care about these issues and have some sort of dice to roll in foreign policy, whether that is through sanctions or aid.”

Williams, who believes the issue goes much deeper than just simply posting a hashtag, thinks it’s our duty as U.S. citizens to get involved in taking charge of what our future planet will look like.

“It’s important to realize that we as U.S. citizens hold all the power; our votes count, so we need to be active,” he said. “The real change that needs to be made is we need new Congress men and women. These outdated congresspeople are part of the problem. They don’t believe in climate change, and they act like it doesn’t exist and isn’t affecting all of us.”

Freeman is also a big believer in the people voting in government officials who have the power and will to recognize these harsh environmental issues.

“We must also make sure we elect politicians who are responsive to environmental and animal protection issues and see it as a moral responsibility to protect our life support systems and all species rather than just using their power to serve business interests by continuing to allow exploitation of living beings in the name of ‘the economy,’” she said. “We must begin to think biocentrically, not anthropocentrically, if we are to survive.”

If it’s not social media activism or having the ability to vote, people can make a change in other ways such as changing their lifestyle choices. Considering Brazilian cattle ranchers and other agricultural workers were chiefly responsible for the fires through their use of the slash-and-burn technique, making dietary changes or recognizing the harms of producing livestock can help in reducing the mass amount of meat being produced.

“When we allow the beef and logging industries to destroy precious habitats that took hundreds of thousands of years to develop so they can graze cattle or plant livestock feed or chop down trees for lumber, then we are allowing short-term profit motives that benefit a few members of one species to take precedence over the long-term benefits that help billions of individuals from potentially millions of different species,” Freeman said. “That seems patently unfair and ecologically unwise.”

Taking note of our carbon footprint, the amount of greenhouse gases we produce, and making changes to it can really prove that one person’s lifestyle decisions can make a difference. 

“Reducing your carbon footprint whether that being aware of the kind of car you’re driving and how often as well as the food we’re eating can help if someone doesn’t have the option to vote environmental leaders in office,” Williams said. “There should be more community outreach programs regardless of demographics to bring people together under the common goal of reducing our carbon footprint.”

Jones, who is also an advocate for sustainable food, believes changing our diet or contributing to buying more local foods is just one step closer to making a positive change.

“I think that the US’s greatest export is our culture, and if we can develop a culture of eco-consciousness starting at home, that can be the greatest help we can lend to the Amazon and ourselves,” she said.

The Signal