Every time I click on the news, I see a new report on the fires in the Amazon. This is not a new phenomenon this year, since July and August are the beginning of the dry season. However, the sheer volume, cause, and ultimate effect of this year’s fires are alarming. The numbers are hard to wrap your head around. There have been more than 70,000 fires reported in the rainforest since the beginning of the year, an increase of more than 85% year-over-year, according to a Washington Post report.
The Amazon spans eight countries, covers roughly 40% of South America, and is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs,” as it produces 20% of Earth’s oxygen. The devastation’s threat to our wildlife, natural resources, and oxygen supply will be felt around the world.
The World Meteorological Organization tweeted about the smoke that has spread across Brazil, stating, “Fires release pollutants, including particulate matter and toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere.” So, in a perverse chain of events, the fires are both generating large amounts of carbon dioxide, while at the same time destroying millions of trees that would be taking in the carbon dioxide and protecting the environment. It’s a double-whammy.
The added carbon dioxide will also trap heat within our atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect and could change the atmospheric circulation that causes the melting of large ice sheets and many other catastrophic effects of climate change.
It gets worse. It’s also been estimated that the Amazon generates about half of its own rainfall. Less rain means drier plants, which are more susceptible to causing even more fires. It’s a dangerous cycle.
Beyond the human and ecological impacts, there are huge consequences for business, too.
- Trade deals in doubt: The European Union is currently negotiating a trade deal with several Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and negative reports from the Amazon could cause these deals to stall.
- Sustainability initiatives: 200+ businesses that operate in Brazil have agreed to aggressive targets to reduce emissions. The fires are causing carbon emissions to go through the roof, and with them go the ability to meet these goals.
- Supply risk: Many companies’ supply chains touch Brazilian products and materials. Brazil ranks second in the world for soy and beef production. The fires could result in shortages and increased prices. Alternate sourcing strategies should be considered to minimize risk.
- Pharmaceutical supply: It is estimated that 25% of the pharmaceutical drugs sold in the United States are derived from 40 Amazon plants. These are all at risk.
What can we do?
Obviously, it is time to act on a personal, political, and professional level.
- Personally: We can follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead and donate to charitable causes such as The Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Trust, Amazon Watch, or the Rainforest Alliance. In Leonardo’s case, the charity Earth Alliance (which he co-launched) pledged $5 million “to focus critical resources for indigenous communities and other local partners working to protect the life-sustaining biodiversity of the Amazon against the surge of fires currently burning across the region.”
- Politically: We can push governments to do more. At their recent summit in France, the G-7 nations committed to providing at least 20 million euros ($22 million) in emergency funding to help with efforts to prevent fires in the Amazon. This is only the start.
- Professionally: Many companies already have sustainability initiatives and goals. Over 700 companies produce Rainforest Alliance Certified products, which are recognized for environmental, social, and economic sustainability. But to be truly sustainable, we need to design products that consider the world’s shrinking supply of natural resources and growing population. We can ensure that the materials and packaging we use are ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. We can also drive a circular economy that minimizes waste, reuses byproducts, and reduces our carbon footprint across our manufacturing and logistics processes.
We must do something. Your business – and the planet’s – sustainability may end up depending on it.
To learn more on how to drive sustainable business processes, download the IDC report “Leveraging your intelligent digital supply chain.”