The Amazon forest fires: the tragedy that went viral through hashtags

The headlines were rampant a couple months ago when rainforest fires ravaged the Amazon. Despite the fact this story is no longer viral news and many of the fires burned out, the issue is still surrounded in controversy and recovery pursuits.

View of one of the fires in the Amazon of Rondonia, Brazil, on August, 24 2019. Joedson Alves/Zuma

The Amazon Rainforest includes, on average, 20-25% of the earths major air supply, and encompasses 2,700,000 square miles of land. With an over 80% increase in fires than this time last year during burn season, this alerts humans all over the world.

“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rain forest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity,” said Brazilian environmentalist, Chico Mendes.

Chico Mendes, Brazilian Environmentalist
Image result for chico mendes fires
A member of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity. [Photo Credit: The Telegraph]

With the Amazon being one of the most prevalent sources of air for this Earth, this panics many citizens of this rainforest is home to many ecosystems, animals, cultures, and it has been a major concern because of recent deforestation.

British journalist and environmental activist, Mark Lynas, also provided input on the long-term effects of such a catastrophe.

“The worst case scenario sees the Amazon rainforest burning, huge amounts of methane being released by Siberian peat bogs and so on-

-by the time today’s six year olds are 60, such a scenario would see global warming already out of control.”

Mark Lynas, British author, journalist, and environmental activist

Amid the political upheaval, global warming concerns, and long-term damage and recovery surrounding this issue, few are addressing how little coverage this event received until it became mainstream media. This begs the question as to how events go “viral” in order to garner attention.

Did it start with a hashtag?

It wasn’t long before some were beginning to question why there hadn’t been much coverage on the topic before the #PrayforAmazonia. It was recently discovered that Brazil hadn’t been covering much of the fires either, but because of the recent hashtags such as #PrayforAmazonas and #PrayforAmazonia, this news has come to light and further issues surfaced.

Hashtags gave way to a microscope to the problems–as long as it stayed trending news. It became so trendy to share photos on social media for this philanthropic cause that people were actually unknowingly posting photos of fires from over 30 years ago or even photos of California fires instead of the Amazon with a number of common hashtags.

Here is one of those posts. None of these photos are of these particular fires. The first photo on the left is from California in 2013…and it was liked over 4,500 times.

Amazon rainforest fires
The second, top-left is of the Amazon, but dates back to 1989. The last photo on the right dates from 2000-2014 and consists of heat maps only. [Photo Credit: https://www.express.co.uk]

The next similar post faces the same issue. According to Express,

“In another viral post, which model Kendell Jenner retweeted to her more than 28 million followers – both images do not show the Amazon rainforest.

The right-hand side image shows a fire in Serbia, whilst the left was taken by photographer Daniel Beltrá and was used in 2014 in articles on fires in Sweden.”

From Express
Amazon rainforest fires
Represented as Amazon’s fires, the left photo was actually taken in Serbia and the right photo was taken in Sweden. [Photo Credit: https://www.express.co.uk]

According to research, many didn’t know about the fires until the first vast sign of burning became apparent on August 19. Smoke caused by the fires caused a daytime “blackout” in Sao Paulo.

Recently, celebrities have taken action on their social medias, like Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, like those other posts referenced, DeCaprio’s post on Instagram (shown below) was of yet another old fire (this one dates to 2014).

“Terrifying to think that the Amazon is the largest rain forest on the planet, creating 20% of the earth’s oxygen, basically the lungs of the world has been on fire and burning for the past 16 days running, with literally NO media coverage whatsoever! Why?” Decaprio writes.

“I don’t know a lot about science, but I do know that allowing massive destruction of the #AmazonRainforest is terrible,” Ellen DeGeneres also added

View this post on Instagram

#Regram #RG @rainforestalliance: The lungs of the Earth are in flames. 🔥 The Brazilian Amazon—home to 1 million Indigenous people and 3 million species—has been burning for more than two weeks straight. There have been 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since the beginning of this year—a staggering 84% increase over the same period last year (National Institute for Space Research, Brazil). Scientists and conservationists attribute the accelerating deforestation to President Jair Bolsonaro, who issued an open invitation to loggers and farmers to clear the land after taking office in January.⁣ ⁣ The largest rainforest in the world is a critical piece of the global climate solution. Without the Amazon, we cannot keep the Earth’s warming in check. ⁣ ⁣ The Amazon needs more than our prayers. So what can YOU do?⁣ ⁣ ✔ As an emergency response, donate to frontline Amazon groups working to defend the forest. ⁣ ✔ Consider becoming a regular supporter of the Rainforest Alliance’s community forestry initiatives across the world’s most vulnerable tropical forests, including the Amazon; this approach is by far the most effective defense against deforestation and natural forest fires, but it requires deep, long-term collaboration between the communities and the public and private sectors. ✔ Stay on top of this story and keep sharing posts, tagging news agencies and influencers. ⁣ ✔ Be a conscious consumer, taking care to support companies committed to responsible supply chains.⁣ Eliminate or reduce consumption of beef; cattle ranching is one of the primary drivers of Amazon deforestation. ✔ When election time comes, VOTE for leaders who understand the urgency of our climate crisis and are willing to take bold action—including strong governance and forward-thinking policy.⁣ ⁣ #RainforestAlliance #SaveTheAmazon #PrayForAmazonia #AmazonRainforest #ActOnClimate #ForestsResist #ClimateCrisis 📸: @mohsinkazmitakespictures / Windy.com

A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on

Many contribute social media to their knowledge of the fires (whether or not their pictures accurately reflect current fires), but still the question remains, “Why didn’t we know about this sooner?”

Many didn’t know about the fires at all until the end of August, or early September, which has caused many activists to speak their mind and try to educate the ones around them.

In fact, CNN didn’t publish an article about the Amazon Rain Forest fires until August 23, 2019.

The hashtag #PrayforAmazonias has been used as a wide distributing tool that wasn’t into light until the end of August, but this was due to the recent discovery made by many in Sao Paulo on August 19. It is reasonable for this hashtag to start days or weeks after the initial discovery, but some also knew about the fires earlier, it just hadn’t been accessible to the public eye.

With the Amazon still fighting this battle many have been left wondering: How is this going to affect global climate change?

Portuguese politician and diplomat, Antonio Guterres, serving as the Secretary-General of the United Nations has wondered this himself.

“I’m deeply concerned by the fires in the Amazon rainforest. In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”

Although there is little that can be done about the nature of news becoming the next trend, we should not forget that just because something doesn’t headline anymore that it is completely resolved. With the Amazon fires all we can do is try to make the work a better place, and donate to help fight the devastating fires that are destroying over 1.7 billion acres.

Donation links:

The RainForest Alliance

The Rainforest Foundation

The EAlliance

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