When news broke of the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest this summer, social media posts about the destruction flooded Instagram and Twitter. There were some that compared the event to the Notre Dame fire, such as WWF (World Wildlife Fund) UK’s tweet that said “There was worldwide outcry when the Notre Dame cathedral was on fire. Why is there not the same level of outrage for the fires destroying the #AmazonRainforest?” Leonardo DiCaprio posted a photo of a burning forest on his Instagram, with a caption describing how the “lungs of the world” had been burning with little media coverage.
In the early 2000s, especially 2005, there were actually worse fires in the Amazon rainforest, according to BBC. But, without widespread social media, unless you were someone who regularly followed world news, there was little chance you knew this was going on.
PLNU biology professor Dr. April Cordero said social media had a huge impact in awareness regarding the fires, which is important because this is an urgent climate issue.
“I’m really glad that [this issue] is being spread through social media because awareness is super important in motivating change,” Cordero said. “And if it’s only some people who are reading some newspaper reports, then it’s only those people who are caring. But with social media, [information] seems to spread to populations who wouldn’t normally be reading about environmental-impact events.”
The fires that happened in the Amazon this summer are not natural fires. Cordero said that agribusiness plays a major role in the deforestation of the Amazon. McDonalds, for example, sets fire to sections of the South American rainforest to clear land for cattle raising, according to Mongabay.
“Agribusiness is using this area to make a living,” Cordero said. “That’s why they are burning down forests, but the Amazon is particularly important for the whole world, because 20% of our oxygen comes from the Amazon. So that can be a big problem if we really diminish the trees there.”
Since Brazil’s pro-business president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, the scale of areas being cleared for agribusiness has been rising, with a spike in July 2019, which was 278% higher than July 2018, according to BBC.
“It was almost 20 years ago that we were having some of the worst Amazon fires ever, and here we are 20 years later still having them,” Cordero said. “I would hate to think that in 2040, this is happening again because nothing’s happened.”
Cordero is hopeful that it won’t still be happening. She said this generation of young people is the “most motivated” about climate she’s seen in her 30 years of teaching, and she’s “excited about the potential change that all of you are going to instigate when you’re in positions of power instead of my generation.”
Social media has helped in educating these new climate and social justice activists. Last Friday, millions of young people around the world participated in a school climate strike protesting the lack of policy attention and change given to the climate crisis. This, said Alessandra Casey, the new PLNU Sustainability officer, is an example of how more and more young people are gaining knowledge about the environment and sustainability without necessarily having to study these things in school, thanks in part to social media.
Young people who post photos on their Instagram story or send out a tweet about climate change are at least doing something, Cordero said, and you never know who could see the information and be motivated enough to take action.
“I absolutely believe one person can make a difference,” Cordero said. “And if that one person doesn’t know about the thing that needs changing, then that person doesn’t get to act. So yes, I do think [posting on social media] is at least something. Accurate information getting out there is better than nothing. Definitely not enough, but it’s a start.”
Lauren Cazares, a political science major who is active on social media and often posts about issues she’s passionate about like women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights, environment, racial and healthcare issues, said posting something can get people talking about issues they otherwise might not know about.
“Social media can be a really powerful way to take action,” Cazares said. “However, if all you do is post on social media and you’re not at least voting, I can’t take your activism seriously. My best tips are to live your life the way you post about,” one example being eating less meat if you care about deforestation and climate change.
Casey said what she hopes to see is “climate activism” turning into “climate activators,” those who don’t just “raise voices but commit to action.” This includes taking individual, everyday steps of reducing one’s global footprint and paying attention to habits that might be harming the environment, not just posting and forgetting about it the next day.
“Young people recognize the privilege they were given living in a place that is safe, where you don’t have to have a limit on the water we use,” Casey said. “It is time to make radical behavior and lifestyle changes.”