Thousands watched as smoke billowed up from one of the world’s most famous landmarks. Around the globe, people donated to help the firefighting efforts, with governments and international corporations pledging millions, as well.
That was the scene after the fire inside the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Since the fire on April 15, more than $1 billion has been donated to the restoration process, which works to approximately $17,000 for every square foot of the building.
Today, the Amazon rain forest is on fire, and the international response pales in comparison.
Even after the world’s seven most-advanced economies convened for discussion in August, less than $30 million was offered to put out the fires that threaten the ecosystem often considered to be the “lungs” of the earth. That is less than one-hundredth of a cent for every square foot burned.
The people and businesses who donated in Paris are noticeably absent, as the majority of private donations are coming from smaller nonprofits that have been advocating for the rainforest’s protection for decades.
As news of the fires spread, volunteers and donations lined up to help. But in the case of the Amazon rainforest, getting people and dollars to one of those most remote locations on the planet is not easy. In most cases, groups receiving the majority of donations are sending that money to future conservation -— not to the approximately 73,000 fires raging in the rainforest.
Private donations, no matter how small, have played a historically significant role in stopping fires and conserving the rainforest. But this time, activists and environmentalists warn they cannot solve the problem single-handedly.
Sabrina Tamimi, senior environmental science major, said donations, education and eco-friendly habits, are more effective than they may seem on the surface.
“Everything starts small, but it creates a bigger and louder impact for when we initially hear about these terrible things,” Tamimi said. “Even though most people cannot fight the problem firsthand, efforts at home do make a difference.”
Many are taking to social media in an effort to advocate for the Amazon’s conservation, as well as calling some of the world’s most influential people to action, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Bezos, the world’s richest man, who was given a 2 out of 5 score by Forbes last year for his philanthropy, has not suggested he would make any donation to combat the fires; his company is named after the Amazon river, which is the life source for the now threatened Amazon rainforest.
Activists have raised issues with large corporations and organizations looking to help, as administrative costs dilute the dollars going to fight fires. Even then, funding governmental firefighting efforts with private donations is problematic.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has called the incoming offers “unwanted,” outright rejecting foreign aid and affirming that Brazil is resilient enough to solve the crisis on its own.
Overall disgust over the ongoing fires seems to be in higher supply than donations.
Dr. Michael Nalbandian, assistant professor of civil engineering and construction management, said that anger is largely justified. Nalbandian’s professional research centers around environmental engineering.
“We just assume because the Amazon rainforest was always there, it is always going to be there,” Nalbandian said.
He explained how that mindset can be easy when changes in global climate seem negligible each year. In the past 100 years, the planet has warmed one degree, so news that grabs attention often takes the forefront of public thoughts and funding.
This explains why governments are reluctant to devote significant funding toward the environment.
Nalbandian also said private companies are not off the hook either, and one reason executives are not lining up to donate toward the Amazon is that private corporations cannot attach their name to a rainforest as they can to a building.
Jeremy Flye, freshman applied theology major, said the issue goes deeper than financial priorities.
“If we are valuing the things humanity has made, regardless of how historical or important, over God’s creation, what does that say about the world’s condition?” Flye said.
The Amazon contributes billions to global markets, but if those markets are unwilling to give back when it is in danger, the forest may not be there much longer.