Artwork by Charlie LaMountain
The Amazon rainforest is being burned, but the public is less aware than the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Nonetheless, there are many key differences between the burning of a crucial ecosystem and a historic place of worship.
Many students would be surprised to learn that the Amazon rainforest has been burning since early August. However, most St. Mary’s students knew immediately when the Notre Dame Cathedral was burning. For example, numerous art history students went to Mrs. Prillaman’s room to seek comfort in the midst of the partial destruction of a cultural exemplar.
These fires in the rainforest were intentionally created as a means of clearing the land in order to allow for greater production of beef. Brazil continues to remain the world’s largest exporter of beef, but this production comes at an environmental cost.
Riya Valalikar, Environmental Club president said, “The cathedral is burning for two seconds and people are like crying all over the place but the forest has been burning for ... weeks and half the world barely bats an eyelash. I think we need to get our priorities straight. We can live without a cathedral (and it can be rebuilt over a long period of time,) but we cannot live in a polluted earth. Our biggest carbon sink is being destroyed but we do not put any money or time or effort into fixing that. I am livid.”
Regardless, the public, or at least those of us here at St. Mary’s, still seem more concerned with the destruction of Notre Dame than that of important global environmental resource, the Amazon Rainforest. Both events sparked public and foreign reactions but at largely different scales. For the cathedral, $1 billion was raised after only two days, while the cause of the rainforest only gained $22.2 million from the Group of Seven nations. Many wealthy French citizens as well as outsiders opened their pockets to save the historic cathedral. On the other hand, the Amazon rainforest being burned has been ignored by most of the Brazilian citizens; only environmental groups seemed to pay attention.
Encompassing an area of 5.5 million square kilometers, 20 percent of the world’s flowing freshwater, and 10 percent of all biomass, the Amazon rainforest sustains the global population and environment from potential catastrophes. The forest serves as a habitat for thousands of diverse species of plants and animals that are utilized as food sources and even medicinal remedies. Brazil’s government, however, has taken a new stance against environmental protection laws in favor of stimulation of large scale production to boost their economy. In fact, Brazil challenges and largely ignores foreigners’ and environmentalists’ activism for the preservation of the rainforest.
While the Amazon is a vital global asset, Art History teacher Mrs. Prillaman explained why people can have such emotional attachments to man-made landmarks. “Because [we] live with them,” she said. “In the case with Notre Dame, it represents their culture, for some their faith, its tourism dollars, which is a huge culture in Paris ... I think it would be the same with any public building in any public country if it caught fire.”
The choices behind emphasizing these man-made landmarks in education rather than environmental ones may explain our passion for Notre Dame instead of the Amazon.
However, Global Education Coordinator Mr. Nichols pointed out,“There are so many differences between these two locations.”
He said, “Obviously, with any trip, the academic goals are going to be different depending on your location. A trip to Notre Dame could focus on architecture, history, art, religious studies, etc., whereas the Amazon would lend itself more appropriately to conversations about environmental justice, ecology, economics, etc. Because the outcomes of these learning goals will differ by the trip, the type of student attracted to each would most likely differ, as well. The logistics behind planning them would vary greatly, as parts of South America are very different than Western Europe.
Nichols did affirm that “there is value in learning about both locations.”
The Amazon rainforest and the Notre Dame both prove to be extremely important to the world in different ways, but a miniscule media coverage on the Amazon rainforest is worrying because of the increasing rate of deforestation and overall negative impact to the environment. The carbon emissions from the rainforest results in issues for the whole world’s climate change. This means that even though the rainforest is far away from our school and we may not know that much information about it, it directly affects us.
Students at St. Mary’s can make an effort to reduce their contribution to the deterioration of this rainforest. For example, AP Biology and Anatomy teacher Dr. Sorin explained that global red meat consumption is directly related to why the Amazon fires were set in the first place. She said we have to be mindful of “where … that beef [is] coming from: is it coming from a local farmer in Fayette county or from a massive export from Brazil or elsewhere?”
Here at St. Mary’s, the Environmental Club does not only aid with the recycling system but also raises awareness to current issues, such as global warming, facing the global environment. Some people choose to look the other way when they learn about a new issue impacting the environment, but this action only makes the situation worse because ultimately everyone is affected by the deterioration of the earth. By choosing to make an effort as a community, St. Mary’s can become a part of the people and organizations around the world striving to preserve the environment and thus the future of this planet.
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