With severe fires ravaging Latin America, we take a look at those tackling the problem first-hand, and the ways each and every one of us can restore hope for these threatened ecosystems.
What has certainly been a challenging 2020 for all of us, in Latin America has been compounded by the ravaging of fires at an unimaginable scale in the Amazon, Cerrado and the Pantanal. Over 25% of the Brazilian Pantanal – a precious ecosystem close to our hearts – has thus far been lost. This is equivalent to burning an area 20 times the size of Greater London. Around 30,000 km2 in total.
Set against the huge scale of this problem it’s easy to feel powerless. But even at this late stage, the path to a better future lies in all our hands, and there are things we can all do to help.
The Short Term
The very frontline of the Pantanal fire is bustling with activity. Heroic firefighters are attempting to hold back a front thousands of kilometres wide, often with minimal safety equipment and firefighting gear, risking their lives to do what they can.
Animal rescue teams face the challenge of caring for an ever-increasing number of wildlife casualties: large reptiles that were not quick enough to escape the flames’ advance, giant anteaters whose great bushy tales easily catch fire from embers on the ground, jaguars whose agile climbing abilities were not enough to avoid toxic smoke inhalation, or tapirs that lack the endurance to evade a tireless threat.
These efforts need urgent support.
In Brazil, IPE (Ecological Research Institute) is among those providing a response. We’ve been proud to support IPE for 20 years on its mission of wildlife monitoring, education and the fostering of coexistence between people and nature.
IPE’s veterinary team has a wealth of knowledge and skills that are now being called on to support the emergency rescue efforts. Since 1996, IPE’s Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative has been devoted to studying and protecting the Pantanal’s largest mammal. Now, their expertise in catching, anaesthetising and carrying out health checks on wild tapirs is being put to a new use, supporting the rescue and care of tapirs and other large animals affected by smoke inhalation and burns.
IPE has brought together a network of tapir specialists, veterinarians, researchers, and wildlife rehabilitation centres, facilitating the sharing of critical information amongst rescuers. Everything from anaesthetic protocols to laboratory procedures is available.
Knowledge alone cannot help a vet without tools, however. Rescue teams are in desperate need of equipment and supplies. IPE aims to raise $100,000 with which their expert veterinarians can source materials and distribute them to the most urgent locations.
Firefighters battling the blaze will also receive aid: fire resistant boots, clothing, balaclavas, helmets, eye protection, water pumps, hoses, shovels, chainsaws, brush cutters and more can help these bravest of Brazilians to extinguish the inferno.
The Long Term
With your help, the emergency response can be strengthened, saving even more human and animal lives. But what about 2021? What about the next decade, and many more ahead?
The huge Pantanal ecosystem is primarily a wetland, swamped by water for a large portion of the year. Fires at this scale are not a normal occurrence. The plants here are not adapted to withstand regular seasonal burning. Why then is this happening?
As the global economy continues to grow exponentially, pressure is increasing on the natural world. Wild areas are converted for farming or industrial production, natural resources are extracted unsustainably to supply raw materials for consumer goods, and pollution caused by production processes threatens the health of ecosystems and human communities worldwide.
The region is facing the fiercest drought for half a century. Reduced rainfall has dried out many areas that would usually flood annually. With so much dry fuel available, fires started by farmers to clear land rapidly spread out of control.
Habitat destruction and climate change go hand in hand. Forest, wetland and grassland ecosystems are critical sinks of CO2. The destruction of these areas is one of the single greatest causes of climate change, second only to the burning of fossil fuels. As extreme weather events, such as droughts, become more commonplace, ecosystems suffer further damage, which in turn accelerates climate change even more.
Destruction of habitats for commodities is a universal problem. Whether through cattle ranching in the Brazilian Pantanal, soy production in the Amazon rainforest, or oil palm plantations across the islands of South East Asia, the challenges are the same, and so too are the solutions.
We must produce and consume our resources more sustainably, if we are to prevent these natural atrocities in the long-run. All of us are part of the supply chain for resources, and therefore we’re the solution too.
Our politicians here in the UK have the power to make these changes. Back in October, we responded to a consultation by the UK government on how new legislation could tackle deforestation caused by commodity production if enacted properly. There is no “good deforestation”, whether legal or illegal, or whether from one type of ecosystem rather than another. Policy must reflect this.
We believe that the best standards currently for sustainable commodities are those of independent global sustainability certification systems, but these standards must guarantee truly deforestation free supply chains, protect all ecosystems universally, from tropical rainforest to temperate wetland, and must be rigorously enforced.
The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is one example of a system that has laid the foundation to transform international supply chains. We’ve seen first-hand, through our involvement, the potential for such a system to improve industry standards. However, there is much more work to be done: since its inception in 2004, the RSPO has only certified just under 20% of global palm oil production. However, there is much more work to be done. The RSPO, over the years of implementation from 2004, has only certified just less than 20% of palm oil globally.
If such systems can be developed for the swathes of commodities that we consume daily, and if governments around the world commit to bringing these standards into law, we can create an incentive for producers to implement sustainable production methods.
You can help us with this cause. Ask manufacturers and retailers what they’re doing to ensure the responsible sourcing of the commodities in their supply chain, such as soy. Together, our voices can start the dialogue needed to make change.
Until then, look for products from providers who are already taking action to source less destructive commodities. We’ve made a handy list of brands that have already taken the pledge to use only sustainably sourced palm oil in their products.
United for a world of complete sustainable commodity production, we really can reverse the impact we’ve had on the natural world.