Each morning, new headlines depict an environmental disaster. The focuses include the loss of habitats, rising sea levels and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2019 marked the second hottest year recorded in the Earth’s history.
In the last decade, according to CNN, fires in the Amazon rainforest have resulted in the destruction of the equivalent of 10.3 million football fields. To Americans, this is equal to losing all of Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey to flames.
In short, the “lungs of the Earth” are burning.
Dr. Romulo Sampaio is a professor of environmental law at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas School of Law, a prestigious university in Brazil. Sampaio presented research and analysis of the fires within his home country at Georgia State’s College of Law building.
The moist environment within the rainforest means that fires occur rarely. These fires are set to clear the land, effectively speeding along deforestation rates. According to CNN, scientists predict that the amount of burned forest could double by 2050, consuming 16% of the rainforest.
Sampaio began by explaining that the country has many environmental policies: 20% of Brazil’s land is environmentally protected, with 1,871 environmental protection areas. The issue, Sampaio argued, lies within the enforcement.
In 2018, Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro as president. Bolsonaro wasn’t taken seriously throughout the election, and the country was stunned by the outcome. Bolsonaro campaigned on a conservative anti-environment platform, unpersuaded by scientific evidence.
“[Bolsonaro] was elected saying that the environmentalists are communists, are leftists, who create panic to input a communist type of government in Brazil,” Sampaio said. “He has a nationalist and development narrative that undermines the perception of effective enforcement action because this narrative … sends a message to the environmental criminal, ‘He will not come here and enforce those stupid environmental laws against me.’”
With fires raging through the Amazon, the Brazilian government felt commercial and international pressure. Social media played a significant role, with the hashtag #PrayForAmazonia reaching over 3 million tweets.
“This reached a peak of international attention that I’d never seen before,” Sampaio said. “They realized the impact of bad environmental policies had on the exportations of Brazilian goods and commodities … This is good news, that information travels fast and everybody in the world now, at least a good portion of the world, cares about social, environmental issues.”
But, he said, there are other people who have effective means of undermining environmental policy, and “that’s what the current government is doing, and that’s what the wildfires in the Amazon reflect.”
Sampaio isn’t the only one concerned by the government’s inaction.
Georgia State junior Nino Vo is the co-director and campaign director of the People for the End of Animal Cruelty and Exploitation (PEACE) club.
The organization’s mission is to spread awareness about the positive impact of a plant-based lifestyle, with an emphasis on a vegan diet and animal rights.
Vo has been vegan for the past five years, making the switch after watching a documentary called “Cowspiracy.”
According to the documentary’s website, animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon destruction. Even more shocking, 1-2 acres are cleared in the Amazon every second.
Vo believes that while recycling is a valuable option, the process is more of a band-aid to ease people’s consciences. She said more emphasis should be placed on reducing and reusing materials.
With over 300 students in the PEACE club’s email chain, Vo is optimistic about this generation’s dedication to sustainability. With regard to the current government, she is weary.
“It’s funny that the U.S. is treating climate change like a political topic and not just as the fact of the matter and that it’s affecting everybody in humanity,” Vo said. “[The] U.S. being one of the leading countries and has this power, and not just like, financially speaking when I’m talking about power, but even to influence and to put the image out there for other countries. I think they’re treating this as more political than it should be, but it should just be treated as an emergency that’s for the whole planet.”
Decatur Earth Club advisor Susan Lomant helps coordinate the campus’s two gardens and promotes environmental education among students. The club’s primary focus is to teach students to garden and live more sustainably. The fresh produce from the gardens is free for anyone who needs it.
Lomant believes further preservation measures are needed for the natural environment.
“If you talk about carbon footprints and look at the finite nature of the Earth and its resources, eventually we’re going to use them up one day or damage them to the point where they’re not really usable,” Lomant said. “So, I think it’s important to preserve what we have and learn to work with it instead of against it.”
Arguably, Donald Trump is working “against it.” The president frequently denies climate change and has become known for his disregard of national park preservation and other long-standing environmental regulations.
This month, according to The Hill, Trump proposed a 26% cut in funding to the Environmental Protection Agency. The recommended 2021 budget would eliminate 50 EPA programs and lead to massive cuts in research.
This proposal is ill-timed in the wake of Amazonian fires and the Antarctic’s recent record-breaking temperature highs. This month, according to The Guardian, Antarctica reached an “incredible and abnormal” 69.35 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lomant, like Vo and Sampaio, believes that environmental efforts should transcend political affiliations.
“Unfortunately, there is a strong political party association which goes with climate change,” Lomant said. “I think we do need to be more mindful. It’s unfortunate that a lot of what we do every day involves generating a lot of trash … a lot of it is just thrown out, and it has to go somewhere. [Trash] doesn’t just disappear into the black hole, and I think for a lot of people, once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.”
Vo is optimistic that environmental activism and attention are here to stay.
“We thought veganism was a trend, but now you see these big influencers out there, when it comes to celebrities or even just the availability of plant-based foods everywhere,” Vo said. “But I think we need to never stop pushing it and at one point, people are going to keep seeing it, and they’re going to realize it’s not just a niche issue and it shares a commonality with so many other issues, and they’re going to register that as a fact.”