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Apathy reigns as two of the world’s rainforests burn

The devastating effects of palm oil plantations on Sumatra's Tripa forest. Photo: Carlos Quiles
The devastating effects of palm oil plantations on Sumatra's Tripa forest. Photo: Carlos Quiles

The Roman Emperor Nero is infamous as being the Emperor that “Fiddled as Rome burned”, in reference to his apparent inaction as the Great Fire of Rome destroyed most of the city. Nearly 2000 years later, fires on an even greater scale burn, with even more devastating consequences and those with the power to act, fiddle, just as Nero did.

Simultaneously, two massive forest fires are turning rainforest in Brazil and Indonesia to ash. It would be tragic if the fires raging in these countries were due to natural phenomena or freak weather, but they’re not. The biggest travesty is that both of these disasters are the result of human activity and the consumption of human beings for what is grown on this land.

As of the end of October, 45% of the protected rainforest, in the indigenous land Arariboia in Brazil, has been totally destroyed. This amounts to a section of rainforest larger than the area of Rio De Janeiro and the border of the fire measures over 100km in length. Greenpeace say local indigenous people believe the destructive blaze to be the actions of illegal loggers who have had their logging of this area curtailed and who therefore seeking retaliation.

Rainforest in Indonesia has been destroyed on an even greater and catastrophic scale, again as the consequence of human activity, this time as a result of clearing land for palm oil plantations. Poorly regulated deforestation and draining of peatland has seen nearly 130,000 forest fires in Indonesia this year alone.

The impact of these fires is massive and far reaching. Indonesia has jumped from the sixth highest emitter of CO2 to fourth in less than a two-month period. The emissions from the rainforest fires have also created more greenhouse gasses than the entire US economy since the beginning of September.

Both of these disasters have multiple victims, both local and international. The land in Brazil and Indonesia, as well as a commodity, is home to people, as well as rare and unique plants and animals, some of which will struggle to recover from these infernos. In Brazil, indigenous people have been forced from their homes and also in some cases been victims of violence at the hands of the illegal loggers. It’s been reported that at least 19 people have died due to the fires in Indonesia, with over 500,000 suffering respiratory illness as a result of the smoke so far.

In Brazil, the inhabitants of Arariboia have been left to fight the fires themselves and in Indonesia the President Joko Widodo is making attempts to reign in the corrupt system which allows the exploitation of the rainforests and illegal deforestation for palm to take place, but his actions are proving futile.

Environmental journalist, George Monbiot has said of the situation: “It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century – so far.” This begs the question, what can we, on the other side of the world do? For starters, there are a number of companies who use unethically sourced palm oil in their products. As consumers, we can lobby these companies to change and vote with our wallets, by boycotting their goods. Companies who fall in this category can be found on the Rainforest Action Network’s website. Also, with the Paris Climate Change Summit approaching, constituents can lobby their MP, to assert pressure to ensure these issues are addressed.

With so much at stake, it is not an option to turn a blind eye to this environmental and human tragedy any longer.

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