• Sarah Goldstein

Toxic Flames, Toxic Media

Updated: Sep 20, 2019



The Amazon rainforest spans 2 million square miles and touches 9 countries. It serves as the home to over 3 billion species of animals, trees, and indigeonous peoples, many of whom are threatened by the violent fires that are currently ravaging critically important forest, burning everything they touch and leaving a path of destruction in their wake. These fires could potentially cause mass extinction, as well as force the Amazonian natives out of their homes and the homes of their ancestors, damaging their culture.


The Amazon Rainforest is responsible for producing 20% of the world’s oxygen supply and absorbing ⅔ of the world’s carbon emissions. With global warming on the rise and our ozone layer thinning, the existence of the Amazon is more important than ever. The fires in the Amazon are burning trees at an alarming rate, meaning that their usual production of oxygen will be significantly limited. Although the oxygen that is produced by plants is absorbed almost immediately upon production, without it there would be consequences.


The fires are also triggering the release of carbon monoxide, a toxic gas which is staining our atmosphere. The trees in the Amazon also help regulate the water cycle, helping reabsorb water from the air back into the earth and from the earth into the air. WIthout them, there will be less precipitation. Their roots, which allow them to gather water from the earth, also hold the soil in place. Without those roots, come the rainy season, there will likely be floods, not to mention soil erosion, which would cause problems like sedimentation in local bodies of water, loss of fertile land, and increased flooding and mudslides.

It is not abnormal for there to be fires in the Amazon, though they are typically naturally caused by things like lightning strikes. This bout of conflagration, however, seems to have been brought upon by people, accidentally, but still quite destructive. The fires were originally set by loggers or ranchers with the intent of clearing land for agriculture purposes and grazing. However, they have grown wild and spread throughout the forest, creating these problems that the Amazon is currently facing. And it does not help that they happened to catch during the dry season.


These fires have raised alarms for people all over the world, as environmental issues concern and endanger everyone. However, people have just begun recently to rally around the cause. The situation in the Amazon is so dire that the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service has actually picked up signs of smoke from these fires all the way on the Atlantic Coast? Awareness of global emergencies comes down to our main source of information; the media. The fires started in January of 2019 and have burned 2,240,000 acres of land. But, if major news stations don’t report on a story it will not be heard, just as they have done in the case of the fires. Popular stations have only started reporting on the issue more recently, which seems too little, too late.


The media holds an insane amount of power. There are three powers that the media holds in shaping the minds of its audience; influencing public opinion, agenda setting and priming. The media has the power to select which stories to tell and how frequently to tell them. Because the media surrounds us entirely, it is difficult to escape its influence. The more that an issue is reported on, the more important people will perceive it to be important. If your friend makes notes on an article and sees many more about that same subject, they will likely tell others about it, thus spreading awareness of the issue. This is agenda setting; it tells people what stories are of importance. This can even influence political agendas and how politicians are perceived by the public. When the media chooses to publicize environmental crisis, like the Amazon fires, the public will demand a response, which will almost insure that some sort of action is taken.


While agenda setting tells people what is of importance, priming influences what we, the public, feel about the, (AKA public opinion). Priming is the way that the media frames an issue, which can also include how often this is repeated. For instance, a lot of media sources are finally portraying the Amazon fires as an issue that is very important and needs to be tended to, making the public sympathetic to the cause. However, when major news stations passed it off as irrelevant and easily solvable, and the public did not give a second thought to the issue, they had been “primed” to ignore the story. Depending on the way that the public feels towards a subject can affect what is ultimately done about it.


The Amazon is on fire and we did not hear about it for months. Innocent people were made homeless, species have been forced to abandon their natural habitats, trees are being burned to ash by the thousand, and all the while we sat ignorant. We depend too much on the larger news stations, who neglected to inform us that one of our greatest assets against global warming was being destroyed and instead choose to focus on unnecessary stories. The media is powerful, but if we are only listening to three or four voices, how can we expect to know about all of these issues? We need to help diversify the media by giving smaller sources larger platform. We can start by ceasing to promote highly partisan news and focus more on the facts and by creating a greater global awareness. The loss of trees in the Amazon and the lack of media diversity are two problems, each with complicated and difficult, but with possible roads to solutions. Planting 1 trillion trees, for instance, can help absorb ⅔ of the world’s total carbon emissions. Establishing platforms for the smaller media voices can change the world in a positive way. If we are willing to open our minds to a variety of media sources, we can better our society and our world by bringing attention to these global issues and possible solutions.

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