and the public outcry of Notre Dame
and the silence of Amazonia.
Wiktoria Walkowiak, City, University of London
Berenika Balcer, University of Amsterdam
It took only three minutes for the world to switch its focus to Notre Dame. The donations poured in from across the world and more than one billion dollars was raised in just two days. Despite blazing for weeks, the Amazonian fires re- ceived profoundly less news and social media coverage than Notre Dame’s burning roof. The spread of the public outcry for both events could be perceived as a strong symbol of hu- manity’s indifference, primarily, yet not limited, to environ- mental change. In the age of unlimited access to informa- tion – how does radical climate change impact humanity?
Burning house and misplaced colonial mindset
The Amazon Forest is an unrivalled source of biodiversity. The lungs of the world with their capacity to absorb greenhouse ga- ses are at a tipping point. Clear cutting causes, loss of moisture soon results in fires. There have been more than 74,000 fires across Brazil in 2019, among nearly 40,000 across the Amazon. Yet, what is worth noting, the rainforest experiences fires every year. However, according to Brazil’s INPE (National Institute for Space Research), this year’s data showed an 84% increase during the same period in 2018. It is the fastest rate of burning since 2013, when the record-keeping began. This surge in burning has in general accompanied a spike in deforestation.
What’s also important is that Brazil’s political leadership has changed in the past year. Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, who has also openly pined for the country’s authoritarian past, became the new president. In his campaign, he promised to weaken the Amazon’s environmental protection, that effectively contributed to the reduction of deforestation for the past two de- cades. And to open up the rainforest to economic development.
Bolsonaro claims that the fires are a political stunt to at- tack his administration and that it was simply the “se- ason of the queimada” or when the farmers use fire to clear land. ISPE disagrees and notes that the number of fires was not the same as normally reported during the dry season.
Potential reasons for the silence of media in the case of the Amazon is due to beef [Read more here] as it is estimated, that approximately 80% of rainforest destruction is to make space for cattle farming. However, the silence of media in that case is not limited to simple ignorance of the masses. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have been killed during the last decade in the context of conflicts over the use of land and re- sources in the Amazon, including frequent threats to journalists.
Bolsonaro, found his success after putting himself in opposition to the rich global North. And when asked about the fi- res, he suggested that the environmental NGOs were behi- nd the fires. After Emmanuel Macron called the fires a crisis and that “our house is burning”, the Brazilian president accused him of a “misplaced colonial mindset”. In this context some loose references could be made to the 2016 conflict around the clearance of Białowieza Forest. In both cases, the issue is not only environmental but also, deeply political.
Environmental protection as protection of the values
The Amazon Rainforest does, in some sense, belong to Brazilians and the indigenous people that live there. In that situation, forest protection becomes the protection of culture. However, as a store of carbon, it is essential to the survival of everyone. Once destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is beyond hu- manity’s ability to restore. Even if people were to replant half a continent’s worth of trees, the diversity of the Amazonian environ- ment, once lost, will not be replenished for roughly 10 million years. This is 33 times longer than Homo Sapiens have existed.
Just after three weeks of the Amazon tragedy, if you searched Google News for “Amazon”, the first ten stories were about Jeff Bezos. When the Notre Dame Cathedral erupted in flames, the images spread across television and digital sphere. Mainstream media around the world devoted their main coverage to the fire in Paris. While, burning of such a historical place, a representa- tion of cultural and religious heritage, was undoubtedly a tragic incident. The time it took for the international outcry to pay attention to the Amazon was rather insulting. The amount of money pledged for rebuilding the Cathedral by far surpassed the amount needed, and despite the wave of goodwill, it has also generated a wave of backlash on social media due to the Amazon’s tragedy.
A biologist, January Weiner, in the interview for “Pismo”, stated that the problem lies between the values that are important for us in the short term and those that are valuable for the who- le humanity over the long haul. Nevertheless, what connects the society as such may be a belief that the civilization should survive. Weiner also mentions there have already been a few “grand” moments when it seemed like the society as a who- le was about to understand the importance of immediate action. Each of them needed great, yet only temporary, reporting.
The insect apocalypse
“How could something as obvious as insects vanish in the air? And what will happen to the world, in which they become non- existent?” questioned by Brooke Jarvis. Radical climate change, something in which many don’t believe, or many do not encounter to think about. Yet, it impacts everything. Whether it is moving, living, standing or doing simply nothing, it will encounter drastic change within the next upcoming years to come. It doesn’t just impact humanity and when it does, it had previously caused the extinction of 58 species, leaving over 7,000 species out of all evaluated insects listed as endangered. This number does not include other life forms such as plants and animals. So, when we as humanity begin to feel and see changes the world will already be on the verge of extinction. “Nymphs thistle, migratory butterfly. He just arrived in Poland from northern Africa. There it winters, breeds here and then returns to itself” said professor Weiner. By all, this means that not only humanity will migrate from one place to another. It is an ongoing process where nowhere in the world is ‘as com- fortable’ as it was for insects, animals, species, plants and people. The living conditions for many are becoming unbearable.
Brooke Jarvis also draws upon an image of summer bicycle expedition, when he had to close his mouth to break through the swarms of insects, while his children will most likely lack this unpleasant yet “usual” experience. The realization that there is fewer insects has become so common that the scientists have created a term for it – “the windscreen phenomenon”.
Insects help create the nutrient- rich layer of soil that helps plants grow, they are essential to mankind and the environment. They pollinate crops and clean up waste so the world does not overrun with droppings. They are the heart of every kind of ecological process, including the ones in the Amazon. An estimate of three million diffe- rent species live in vast rainforest of Brazil and faced great danger during the fires that struck attention weeks after.
The comparison of Notre Dame and the Amazon can be controversial for some, however, the contrast highlights the moment when the cathedral was burning, the world stopped. The richest and most influential of this world emptied their pockets to help rebuild it. Meanwhile, the Amazon has been burning for weeks.
If to consider Notre Dame as a Baudrillard’s simulacra (re- fers to the significations and symbolism of culture and me- dia that construct perceived reality) to some extent, then the burning Cathedral could represent a social relationship be- tween people (and the constructed world in general) that is mediated by images. 12 million people visited Notre Dame in 2017. Just imagine how many times it has been photo- graphed. Because of those numbers and replications of the building’s image in the mass culture, Notre Dame may ap- pear as more “familiar” than the Amazon Forest known just for those watching David Attenborough’s documentaries. The burning roof seemed as something tangible and “va- luable” compared to the Amazon, that is on the other side of the globe, perfectly fitting the general approach to cli- mate change that “is happening somewhere far away”.
To end, we do not have to wait for another climatic massacre to arise as the climate crisis is already here. Nevertheless, consider the extinction of many life forms and, hence, everything around us because as stated by Maxwell – “when it’s gone, it’s gone.”