The Amazon Rainforest, often called the “lungs of the planet,” has been engulfed in a catastrophic fire this summer. Together with other types of deforestation, the flames consumed 519 square miles of the forest in July alone.
That’s the most destructive month in recorded history for the region.
The American media did not start heavily covering these fires until pictures of the catastrophe were spread around social media with the hashtag #PrayForAmazonia. This lack of urgency certainly didn’t help as the flames did heavy damage the Brazilian ecosystem.
But ecological damage is only a tiny lens through which to view these fires’ destruction. The burning Amazon is about more than the environmental consequences — it also highlights a lack of compassion for, and racism toward, the nearly 1 million Indigenous people in Brazil who call the Amazon home and have done so for centuries.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made plans for clearing land in the Amazon to make space for more development and infrastructure in the country. The Brazilian government favors its economy over its own people, a process that dehumanizes Indigienous people.
At the beginning of high crop seasons, when farmers want to clear land for agriculture, they often turn toward the most cost-effective and efficient, yet often illegal option: burn it. And rather than enforce its own laws, the government has turned a blind eye to this mass destruction in favor of short-term economic prosperity.
Bolsonaro’s political campaign has been committed to capitalizing on the Amazon for economic benefit since the beginning. Since his election and inauguration, he has dismantled many of the organizations that help and protect Indigenous people in favor of development.
For example, he has fired the head of Brazil’s National Indigenous Affairs agency and proposed building hydro-electric dams that would harness the Amazon’s waterfalls.
Many in the media have focused on the environmental impact of the Amazon fires, neglecting to cover the political and historical side of this devastating narrative. The disaster has had a catastrophic effect on the area’s ecosystem. Within that area, there were nearly 150 separate Indigenous territories affected in August alone.
This is a case study in what happens when people turn a blind eye toward the suffering of racial minorities, something that remains all too common. And the lack of media representation has intensified the effect of this disaster by failing to raise awareness of what some are calling the beginning of a “genocide.”
The media has a responsibility to accurately and fully detail the events of a social and environmental catastrophe of this magnitude, and the Brazilian government has a responsibility to help its people, regardless of their Indigenous status or its capitalist agenda.
The damage that has been done is irreversible. But with a matter as serious as Indigenous displacement and widespread deforestation, change is better late than never.