The Amazon is burning— this is why you should care

The Amazon is burning— this is why you should care

National Geographic Explorer Gab Mejia pens an open letter to the youth.

Art by Issa Barte


Today, the world’s largest forest, the Amazon, is burning faster than ever seen and recorded in the history of human civilization. Half of the Great Barrier Reef has been declared dead, and people are mourning the first ever loss of a glacier due to the climate crisis. Our planet’s natural engines have unwittingly gone down in flames amidst the numerous environmental issues and atrocities, that the human collective continues to bring upon this Earth. The iconic vast lush forests of Brazil and South America have been scorching for the past three weeks, when the smoke and ash that was swept away by the winds plunged the city of Sao Paulo in momentary darkness. 

Let this sink in: the future of a better planet with hopes and dreams may just be burnt down by a single flame, all thanks to us humans. Humans that are led by oppressive governments like the newly elected far-right leader Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who have fueled this flame as he enabled the deforestation and destruction of the forest cover in Amazonia through his recent policy changes.  He campaigns for the exploitation of the forests, and blatantly dismisses scientific discussions about the climate crisis that has fostered a culture of negligence in our society, even proclaiming “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame.” These governments have enabled and encouraged greedy businessmen and capitalists to further exploit the natural heritage and resources our rich yet limited Earth provides, from the forests, oceans and wetlands, and the very people that they should serve just for money and power. Leading on to an unsustainable and unaccounted production of products from agriculture and livestock that have nearly wiped out 17% of the total Amazon forest cover over the past 50 years and have significantly increased the rate of deforestation in the area of up to 88% compared to 2018, according to a recent report from National Geographic. Mountains turned into wastelands, and forests turned into graveyards. Both the producers and consumers of the products from palm oil, soy, and even something as basic as meat have led to the ruination of the homes of indigenous tribes that have coexisted with the Amazon for centuries — lands and lives that can never be brought back again, robbing the future of our world of the beauty and life we were once lucky enough to see; privileged enough to live. 


There is no other planet. Brazlian or Filipino, government official or businessman, president or citizen, no matter who you are, we share the same air and sky, land and seas, forests and rivers, mountains and trees— only separated by borders and imaginary lines that we have cast in society and our minds. 



And even though the Amazon may be thousands of miles away, it is connected to us more than our eyes can truly tell. It shelters 10% of all known species of animals and plants in our world, and provides 20% of all the oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere that gives us the air to breath and live. Every leaf, every tree, every insect, every seed that sprouts from its fertile soil is part of a greater ecosystem, a house of cards that collapses when even just one piece is taken out. From the food that you eat, to the wood your bed is carved out of, and the phone in your hand, everything comes from nature. For it is not only the forests that we kill, but ourselves.

Indeed, our house is on fire, it might just be on the other side of your room— but this will not be the end of it. This should not be the end of it.

We humans may be ironically smart enough to make our problems worse by destroying the Amazon, one of the last remaining hopes we have in potentially saving humanity and our planet from the dire consequences of an ecological collapse as it absorbs about 25% of all the carbon released in our atmosphere. But if there is anything good I could say about our species, it’s that we also have the potential to solve our own problems, big or small, young or old. The potential to unite together, to collaborate, and to push our leaders and our very selves to act upon these issues that persist today. We are the only species who can hope. The only species who hopes and dreams for more than what we already have — a choice that can lead for the better or the worse. For as much as we are part of the problem, we are also part of the solution. 

The real question is no longer about believing if all these environmental issues and climate crises occur. The question is if we as a generation, and the generation before us is willing to believe that there is anything to be done. It is ok for us to feel despair, and to feel helpless — but it is not okay for us to give up hope, much more not to act knowing our only home  is on fire. A critical-sense of hope that is built on empathy, kindness, and action not just for people but for the tiniest creature and smallest seed. Because only in learning and caring about something that is not us, can we truly understand our differences and similarities, that we are all interconnected just like the forests and lands where our civilizations have been built upon. 

There is no other planet. Brazlian or Filipino, government official or businessman, president or citizen, no matter who you are, we share the same air and sky, land and seas, forests and rivers, mountains and trees— only separated by borders and imaginary lines that we have cast in society and our minds. 

So, do not let it end here. Go forth, begin, and continue being the leader our world needs. Share your voice by raising awareness on atrocities on the environment and society by sharing stories of nature and discussing political issues with your friends, and on social media. Get involved in environmental organizations like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other local non-profits like the Haribon Foundation

Vote wisely during the elections in your country by researching about policies, campaigns, and political stands your selected leader is  doing. Donate and support initiatives in underserved communities and indigenous tribes like Tuklas Katutubo . Volunteer, donate, and support native tree planting efforts and grassroots initiatives for the Amazon like the Rainforest Alliance. Help and support forest rangers and local communities who protect national parks and protected areas by supporting sustainable ecotourism ventures like Eco Explorations and Masungi Georeserve. Hold businesses and CEOs accountable for the waste they produce. Educate the future generation about the beauty and importance of nature. Eat less meat, stop buying products with palm oil, choose alternative solutions other than soy, and generally be mindful of how you live. But most of all— never lose hope. 

It is the last good thing left to have in us humans.

Gab Mejia is a photographer and National Geographic Explorer. He is also part of the WWF National Youth Council. 

#environment #politics

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