Amazon Rainforest Fires: SparkNotes Edition

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

If you’ve been on the internet the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably stumbled upon an article about the Amazon rainforest fires or saw a celeb post about it on social media. It sounds simple, right? The forest is burning = bad? Well, yes and no. There’s a lot to uncover, all the way from fires to petty politicians, so let’s get caught up on all of the tea by throwing it back to our trusty study guide, after Quizlet of course: SparkNotes.

Plot Overview

Our story begins the summer of 2019 when the National Institute for Space Research, who uses satellite images to monitor fires, reported that it had detected a 77% increase in fires from the same period in 2018. This raised red flags because it’s a drastic change from the 2005-2014 period where there was a dramatic 70% decrease. The fires were so widespread that the smoke traveled and darkened the skies over São Paulo, the country’s most populated city. This tale gets more interesting considering that the rainforest ecosystem is very wet, so it is difficult for forest fires to naturally occur. Which begs the question: what, or who has been causing the fires?


The Amazon rainforest, home to countless species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else, serves as the setting of this tale. It is referred to by many as “the lungs of the world” and is often credited for being one of the most effective ways to control the effect of climate change. The rainforest ecosystem is responsible for the absorption of millions of tons of carbon emissions every year. The burning of the trees results in, not only the removal of this carbon absorption but also the release of the stored carbon that was previously absorbed. It’s important to note that fires have been a normal way to help clear out old brush and restore nutrients in the soil. The indigenous population, we will hear more about them later, have been known for developing charring practices. However, the Amazon does not easily burn naturally and this summer more forest land was cleared than in the last three years combined.

Main Characters

  • Jair Bolsonaro: And so we meet our antagonist, Brazil president and pro-business advocate, Jair Bolsonaro. Since his election in 2018, Bolsanaro has been very vocal about his mission to expand agriculture and mining business opportunities into environmentally protected areas. Due to this history, many speculated that the recent fires were an act of deforestation and that his party was behind it. Earlier this year, his administration's lack of concern over environmental policies led Germany to withdraw 39.5 million dollars that would help fund conservation projects and the support of indigenous people. When backlash regarding the fires began, he accused these non-governmental organizations (many of which were affected by the cut of funding) of starting the rainforest fires to damage his image. To make things worse, leaked documents show that he had intentions of weakening indigenous rights and environmental efforts. Yikes!

  • The Indigenous People: The indigenous people play a pivotal role in this tale but their role begins far before the existence of any of us today. There is evidence of the presence of indigenous people in the rainforest going as far2 back as 10,000 years. At the arrival of Europeans, three million indigenous people were present and now only one million remains. Legally, 13% of Brazil is considered indigenous land and a large part of it is in the Amazon. They are largely credited to the maintenance of the rainforest ecosystem in the Amazon. Additionally, according to Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, fires were present in 148 indigenous territories. Voicing their concern over the lack of control, O-É Kaiapo Paiakan, a member of the Xinguan Indigenous group says, “We say no to mining in our lands, no to deforestation.”

  • You: Let’s be real, most of us are not able to directly contribute to the cause due to our high profile connections and millions of dollars (shout out to Leonardo DiCaprio, we see you!). So are we supposed to sit around while the “lungs of the world” go up in flames? As if! Here are a few ways that you can help:

  1. Keep It Real: The instantaneous nature of social media makes it so easy (and tempting) to get behind a cause ASAP. We’ve all been there before. News hits our timelines, we skim an article, hit retweet and keep scrolling. Often, people have good intentions but the unintentional spread of false information can be damaging to a situation. With that said, don’t be afraid to have a conversation! Seeing a post that looks a little sketchy probably has you asking questions, so ask the questions. Where was this info acquired? Where did these numbers come from? Odds are someone else looking at the article has the same doubts.

  2. Money, Money, Money: Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can provide more opportunities and resources. Donating to an environmental foundation such as Earth Alliance is a great way to help out! There are multiple charities that are dedicated to helping the Amazon in a variety of ways.

  3. Support: You can also make an impact by supporting businesses that support the rainforest by meeting environmental and social standards. Are your favorite brands on the list? Do a quick search on the Rainforest Alliance website to find out!


The best part of this tale? The story isn’t over and pages are still being written. You may not be Leo DiCaprio with an environmental nonprofit and reach over millions but you CAN help change the direction this story goes in. Will you?

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