The hashtag #PrayForTheAmazon trended on Thursday morning in the Philippines and brought so much indignation on social media. Photos shared using #PrayForAmazonas and #AmazonRainforest became viral. There is just one problem. Many of the viral images of the Amazon rainforest fires are not current or are not of the Amazon. French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday tweeted a photo of a burning Amazon Rainforest calling it an “international emergency and called for the situation to be discussed at the G7 summit in two days.” It does not help that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro accused the Brazilian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for starting the Amazon Rainforest fires to hurt his government. Bolsonaro presented no evidence which enraged critics and led to a growing social media campaign over the dangers to the Amazon.
Using TinEye Reverse Image Search, I verified that the photo Macron shared was first published on Feb. 13, 2018 in “Carbon emissions from Amazon wildfires could ‘counteract’ deforestation decline.” Fact checking by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) debunks many of the viral images as misleading. AFP used a reverse image search, a simple tool to find out when a photo first appeared online and could trace the origins of some pictures being shared out-of-context. Though it is difficult to measure the area of the forest fire, AFP reported that “#PrayforAmazonas was the world’s top trending hashtag on Wednesday, racking up over 249,000 tweets.”
Sure, the images are misleading and we need to be more prudent on social media sharing, but I want to turn this around into an opportunity. Educate yourself to use the reverse image search tools. Just right click on the image and choose “Reverse Image Search.” You could then select Google search, Bing image match, Yandex search, TinEye search and Baidu search. Next is taking this viral campaign into a movement to stand up for the environment. Social media helped increase awareness of our environment. More netizens know that we often refer the Amazon to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Deforestation explains most of the fires,” Paulo Moutinho, a researcher at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) told AFP. “The fires are always human in origin. Fire is used to clean areas that have already been deforested, to open areas or to prepare land for cultivation. The lack of prevention means these fires spread to drier areas which were not supposed to be burned,” Moutinho explained. I also encounter the same dilemma near my coffee farm in the Cordilleras. Every summer, I smell smoke from a distance when farmers clear land for vegetable farming. It is the fastest and cheapest way to clear land. I talk to the farmers on how we need to collaborate and watch even the smallest fires. Even a lighted cigarette butt once started a fire in our property.
Instead of relying on online images on our social media feed, let’s protect the rainforest whether in the Philippines or in the Amazon. There are so many ways to help save the environment and the simplest way is to be a better environmental steward. Simple acts are adopting eco-friendly ways of doing things even before moving on to environmental growth, taking part in tree planting opportunities, encouraging responsible behavior and sharing knowledge. GCash Forest (https://www.gcash.com/gforest) in partnership with WWF-Philippines (WWF) and the Bio Diversity Finance Initiation (Biofin) is more than tree planting. The main thrust of GCash Forest’s campaign is tree management, which is helping ensure that the fully grown trees provide their full benefits to the area’s biodiversity. These benefits include minimizing erosion, increasing ground water recharge, mitigating pollution, and providing livelihood opportunities to the community.
There are other ways online that you could aid in protecting our forests. Cnet ‘s article on “The Amazon rainforest is on fire: Cause, scope, and how you could help” lists down ways on how you could help:
Donate to Rainforest Action Network (https://www.ran.org/issue/protect_an_acre/) to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.
Donate to the Rainforest Trust (https://www.rainforesttrust.org) to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization saved over 23 million acres and counting.
Reduce your paper and wood consumption. Double-check with Rainforest Alliance (https://www.rainforest-alliance.org) that what you’re buying is rainforest-safe.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (https://www.wwf.org.uk) works to protect the countless species in the Amazon and around the world.
Ecosia.org is a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 searches you run.
Donate to Amazon Watch (https://amazonwatch.org/donate), an organization that protects the rainforest, defends indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team (https://4agc.com/donation_pages/7c8a347f-b26b-48a0-b1fa-67d94b89126e), which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower indigenous peoples.
Amazon Conservation (http://www.amazonconservation.org/getinvolved/index.html) accepts donations (which could be tax deductible) and lists what your money goes toward. You could help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve indigenous lands and more.
I am also reminded of Gina Lopez, an environmental champion who campaigned against the destructive practices of mining, and worked for the reforestation of La Mesa Ecopark, the rehabilitation of Pasig River and many other places. Lopez reminded us to stand up for the environment and act for the protection not only for our country’s true wealth but for the planet as well.