Religious Responses to the Amazon Rainforest Fires

November 15, 2019

Thousands of fires burning in the Amazon rainforest sparked international outcry from environmental advocacy groups, governments, and NGOs in August 2019. Although the number of fires burning in the Brazilian portion of the rainforest subsequently dropped, the total from January to September was still 43% higher than the same period in 2018. Some researchers have identified deforestation spurred by expanding industry as a leading cause of the fires. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, however, has pushed back against such claims of ecological crisis in the Amazon, instead claiming that the rainforest “remains pristine and virtually untouched.”

Religious communities and faith-inspired organizations have played important, but varied, roles in response to the fires. Interfaith groups have led global campaigns to organize religious leaders, practitioners, and faith networks in efforts to promote more sustainable rainforests by combating deforestation. The Catholic Church convened the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region on October 6, 2019 in Rome to address environmentalism, indigenous rights, and other issues in the region. At the opening of the synod, Pope Francis identified the cause of the fires as “interests that destroy.” Whereas Catholic and Protestant leaders have spoken out about the ecological crisis in the Amazon, many evangelicals have remained silent on the issue—contributing to a political split within the Christian community in Brazil

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What steps should religious communities and faith-based organizations take to address the Amazon rainforest fires and similar ecological crises? What are the challenges and possibilities of interfaith action on environmental changes in the Amazon region? How do dynamics between local religious communities and global faith networks shape responses to the Amazon rainforest fires and ecological devastation more generally?

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A church in Vaupes, Colombia.