Photo: NASA

The Amazon is burning while the world watches. The number of fires in the world’s largest rainforest is at a ten-year high. False information, however, has misrepresented the crisis.

It is true that the number of active fires right now is concerning. Both climate change and a rise in deforestation are to blame. The destruction of the Amazon by both saws and fire is deserving of the world’s attention.

People across the world began flooding social media with images of the flames. Hashtags like #PrayforAmazonia spread across Twitter. Unfortunately, the increased coverage also came with an influx of false information.

A popular Instagram story image blamed the media for helping spread the fire through a lack of reporting. The media has actually been following the Amazon crisis  since before the fires. Their focus, however, was on deforestation and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.

Social media has once again proven that it is both a force for good and a creator of fear. The attention brought by the internet will help challenge policy makers on their pro-deforestation stances. However, social media has also made the fires seem like an apocalyptic and once-in-a-lifetime event.

Incorrect Images Flooding Social Media

Celebrities often use their star-power for good. They champion causes like equal pay because they recognize that their reach is larger than most government officials. Helping shed light on ways to help those in need is a responsible use of their power.

Unfortunately, several celebrities used images that were either the wrong place, incorrect year or both to mourn the Amazon. These photos added to an overall misrepresentation of the fires. Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio shared an image to his 34 million Instagram followers. The photo he used was from 2018.

A popular image that has come out of the fires is that of a jaguar. The story behind the photo is that it  jumped into the river to save itself from the flames. In the photo, the jaguar is being rescued by a Brazilan soldier. The story, but not the image, is fake.

The picture was taken in 2016 for a report on efforts in the Amazon to save jaguars. The use of the photo, without permission from the photographer, is just one example of the false information being shared. Another image being linked to the Amazon fires is a burned rabbit. That photo is actually from last year’s wildfires in California.

It is understandable if someone uses pictures from a previous Amazon fire. The images often look the same. That does not make it okay, however, as every picture tells a different story. An image from 2019 may not make as big of an impact as one from the 1980s and can create a false idea of the fire’s scope.

Other images being shared are not even from the Amazon. Photos of wildfires in Sweden and Montana have been circulated by celebrities. The images of entire hillsides burning add not to the world’s knowledge of this particular situation, but rather the notion that these fires are apocalyptic.

No, We Will Not Run Out of Air

Incorrect statistics used by both the media and celebrities are also creating the idea that the Amazon fires are indicative of the world’s demise. A commonly repeated statistic is that the Amazon produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. 

While the rainforest does create a significant portion of the Earth’s oxygen, it does not make one-fifth of the total amount needed. This false information was repeated by celebrities, politicians and the media, including CNN and The Associated Press. 

Much of the oxygen produced by the Amazon is subsequently absorbed. This means that the loss of the rainforest would not deplete the oxygen supply on Earth. However, it will affect how much carbon dioxide is left in the atmosphere. 

There are countless other reasons to be worried about the Amazon fires. Countless plant and animal species, some of which have yet to be discovered, are not only threatened by the fires. They are at risk because of the rise in deforestation, which is what is causing more of the Amazon to burn.

The Amazon Still Deserves the World’s Attention

The spread of false information and images on social media has been unfortunate. However, people should not turn a blind eye to the crisis simply because of these errors. The fires will not lower our oxygen supply, but they are threatening both people and animals.

The indigenous people who live in the Amazon have been threatened for years. Deforestation has destroyed much of the land they live on. Now, fire threatens to destroy their way of life.

Their lives, along with firefighters, are on the line. Even if they are safe from the flames, their air is now contaminated. The smoke that helped blocked out the afternoon sun in São Paulo has poisoned the air supply for indigenous communities. It is also affecting the animals that live in the Amazon. 

Because the Amazon does not typically have natural wildfires, animals there have not adapted to survive. The plants that feed those animals are also not designed to live through a fire. This places animals, particularly ones that are already endangered, at a higher risk of endangerment and extinction.

All together, the G7 has pledged $40 million to help combat the fires. Politics has made the usage of the money complicated and unlikely. What is most important is that the world comes together to combat deforestation and misleading information. 

The current wildfires have been misrepresented and are not the catastrophe some are making it out to be. But, we should still be worried. The rainforest is an integral part of the global environment. Like all ecosystems, it relies on a delicate balance that must be protected. 

Kayla Glaraton

Kayla Glaraton is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. Her interests include human rights, American politics and policy, the environment and international affairs. Kayla is studying journalism and...