Leo’s $5 Million Donation Is Great, But It's Not Enough to Save the Amazon

Leonardo DiCaprio really cares about the planet.
Leonardo DiCaprio really cares about the planet.
Photo: Getty

Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental organization Earth Alliance created a donation fund over the weekend to help address the crisis in the Amazon. The actor kicked in a $5 million donation, and the group is calling on the public to help as well.

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The thing is, Amazon rainforest is burning, and it’ll need a lot more money to stop the fires while Brazil has a government actively working to convert its biological resources into profit.

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Earth Alliance announced that it will be distributing the money among a number of on-the-ground groups that work directly with the forest and indigenous peoples who live there. Meanwhile, leaders of the seven richest countries in the world—the Group of 7, which includes the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK—agreed Monday on a $20 million package to help aid Brazil and other countries dealing with the Amazon forest fires. These funds should help countries roll out aircraft to fight the fires from above, according to the New York Times. But for the seven wealthiest countries in the world, $20 million is next to nothing. Beyond that, the funds from these rich countries, as well as DiCaprio’s group, don’t address some of the underlying issues for why the Amazon is burning.

Once these fires are out, how long until new ones are lit in their wake? They’re likely a result of illegal cattle ranching activity. People go in, clear the trees, and set the rest ablaze to prepare the land for pasture. After a couple of years depleting the land, these ranchers sell the land to soy farmers to exploit next. Then, they try to find another illegal stretch of land to destroy.

And how far can all the money in the world go when Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing racist lunatic who went so far as to blame the fires on non-governmental organizations, is in charge? He’s been chipping away at the country’s environmental protections since he came into office in January. He fired a government scientist for speaking out about the increased deforestation rates in the Amazon so far this year. He dismantled the federal bureau of indigenous affairs, FUNAI.

These policies benefit private interests looking to make a quick buck by farming, mining, or logging the forest. These activities hurt the people who live in the forest and depend on it, as well as all of humanity. We all rely on the Amazon to serve as a carbon sink. The fires release that stored carbon dioxide, worsening our already perilous situation around climate change.

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Providing medium- and long-term support to indigenous peoples in the Amazon is a key part of what’s needed to stop Bolsonaro’s destructive policies,” said Moira Birss, a campaign director at Amazon Watch, in an email to Earther.Indigenous peoples are the best defenders of the rainforest. Indigenous territories are the best-preserved parts of the Amazon and have been organizing since day one of Bolsonaro’s presidency (and way before that) to defend their rights and protect the rainforest.”

The organization hopes that some of these donations will go toward helping these communities rebuild after the fires. Birss said developing communication lines is key to inform allies when trouble is afoot. That way, the world knows before the fires ravage beyond control.

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Sure, global outrage may help steer Bolsonaro in the right direction. He did deploy tens of thousands of soldiers over the weekend to help fight the fires, but some people are profiting from these fires. They’re lighting them up for personal gain. Will Bolsonaro deploy people on the ground to stop that from happening? Unlikely. Unless the government takes appropriate actions to prevent the fires from starting in the first place, financial resources can only go so far. Unless criminals fear their destructive activity will bring about a penalty, they won’t stop. Not when there’s money to be made.

That’s not to say the public shouldn’t donate to this cause or that the efforts from people like DiCaprio are for naught. Every little bit helps in a tragic situation like this. Earther reached out to Instituto Socioambiental, one of the organizations that’ll receive the funds, to find out how it plans to use the funds. We also reached out to Global Wildlife Conservation, which hosts Earth Alliance, for comment on details of its plans. Despite whatever plans it may have, those efforts are likely to take time. And the Amazon—as well as all of we humans who rely on it to store the carbon that we emit into the atmosphere—is running out of that.

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What the Amazon rainforest needs is a revolution that forces Bolsonaro to get his act together. He’s already seeing the consequences of his ignorance: Donors have pulled out of Brazil’s Amazon Fund, and the European Union has discussed killing a major trade agreement if the president doesn’t take more action to protect the rainforest. Brazil needs to feel more pressure like this in addition to funds to help protect the forest. And it needs to hold lawbreakers accountable. Otherwise, people will keep breaking the law. And the Amazon will keep burning.

Update 1:45 pm: This story has been updated with a comment from Amazon Watch.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

So, what do you propose Yessenia?

Are you gathering the funds to move to Brazil and open your own NGO to put hands on ground and stop what’s happening?

Or are you proposing us brazilians to try to topple a proto-dictator with military tendencies, support, and even admiration for the military dictatorship of Brazil’s past for following up on exactly what he said he’d do during his campaign? Because yes, this is nothing new, he said during campaigns that he’d do exactly what he’s doing. And people still voted for him.

I’m not complaining of international pressure or putting the dots where they are, but whether you like it or not, Bolsonaro was elected president by direct popular vote here, no matter what detractors might say.

The last thing I want in Brazil is US style tribalism fueled by international sensationalism. Keep your revolution to yourself. We had enough of it already, in case you haven’t been paying attention to our country lately.

It’s interesting how international press has finally started to pay attention to brazilian matters lately, with at least one post a day attacking Bolsonaro, or overanalyzing the situation here by their own terms and high-ground style sweeping judgements and one sided generalizations, attracting all sorts of extremists from both sides. This isn’t helping us, this certainly isn’t helping the Amazon, and I’d argue it also isn’t helping your own country.

There is no quicker way to completely destroy the Amazon by radicalizing positions and turning this into a civil war or internal conflict of sorts. We need to sit on the table on both sides and come up with agreements to make things better for the Amazon region despite our differences. It’s you guys with your alarmist pieces that are causing the president to double down further and plant his feet into defensive position.

The thing I don’t understand from all these posts is how you’ll put that on one side, the situation is dire and needs immediate action, on the other you condemn people who are taking the exact sort of action that is likely to help the most - donating directly to organizatios close to the matter and with hands on ground.

Afaik, what Leo did is worth 5 million more than this article. Wanna help, put your money where your mouth is, and add to the sum. You will never get your perfect, confirmation bias, green new deal politician here. You can’t even put one in your own government, how about stopping for a minute passing judgement on others as if you had some high ground to stand on, and show by example by not having a climate denier coal and oil supporter president there in the first place?

You guys sound like grumpy old men who can do nothing but complain about things while sitting in comfortable chairs. It’s useless and it solves nothing. It didn’t work for the US, it won’t work for Brazil or the Amazon too. Calm the fuck down and think this over.