What the Amazon fires reveal about our attitude towards climate change

Our misplaced priorities have dangerous and lasting effects

We need to pay as much attention to our burning resources as we do to burning monuments. 
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In recent months, the Brazilian Amazon, the Earth’s largest tropical rainforest and its most biodiverse region, has been devastated by thousands of fires—and it continues to burn. 
 
In the midst of a global climate emergency, this environmental tragedy has the potential to push us to a devastating tipping point. Our response to it is a reflection of how little we seem to care about the future of our planet.
 
Fires in the Amazon are not a new phenomenon. They occur every year due to slash-and-burn deforestation, a farming method that involves cutting and burning patches of forest to clear land for agriculture and development. The difference is that this year alone, there have been more than 90,000 fires, marking the highest number in recorded history, and an almost 80 per cent increase compared to 2018. 
 
Facing the fear that September’s dry season will cause the fires to intensify, the resulting carbon emissions and threat to biodiversity are set to increase. This will lead to drastic consequences on a global scale.
 
Unfortunately, widespread and irreversible ecological damage isn’t the only hallmark of this tragedy. Another is the lack of attention it’s received from the media.
 
The Amazon burned for weeks before the world took notice. And when it finally did, people took to social media to condemn the lack of media coverage, monetary pledges, action, and care it received. Many compared the tragedy to April’s Notre Dame fire, which, in addition to having around-the-clock coverage and inspiring worldwide outcry, reached more than $1 billion in donations in two days.  
 
While comparing disasters can be problematic, the difference in response to and coverage of these incidents says a lot about our misplaced priorities. As does typing “Amazon fire,” into a Google search bar and discovering that (depending on the day) the first few results are for Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and tablet. 
 
Perhaps one explanation for the difference in global response is that, for a lot of people, the Notre Dame feels closer to home, literally or culturally. The building is widely recognizable, featured in textbooks, pop culture, and tourist photographs. It’s a familiar representation of human culture and excellence, and has personal meaning beyond its physical structure.    
 
We can also ignore the Amazon fires in a way that we couldn’t ignore the burning structure of the Notre Dame Cathedral, sitting in the middle of Paris, a densely populated tourist hotspot. Although the effects are and will continue to be detrimental, for now, we can easily push aside thoughts of the deteriorating Amazon and ignore the gravity of the situation.  
 
In truth, there’s nothing wrong with our desire to preserve the Notre Dame. It means we collectively value things like history, spirituality, and beauty. That said, our willingness to ignore, and hesitation to address, what the earth is experiencing is dangerous. 
 
Yes, it’s easier to grieve a building that we have an emotional or personal connection to. It’s also easier to rebuild a building than it is to save a burning rainforest, or solve the climate crisis. 
 
But the Amazon is more than a remote forest—it’s beautiful and culturally significant, and it also happens to sustain the health of our planet.  
 
There’s no point in preserving or building city skyscrapers if we can’t rally enough concern to protect the resources that ensure our planet has a future at all. 
 

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