As is often the case during times of tragedy, loss reminds us of value. Over the past few days, the world has watched in horror as fires spring up in the Amazon and chip away at its vast wonder. Humanity finds itself in a unique moment of collective tragedy, as the national loss of Brazil raises concern for our planet in its entirety. Let us not lose sight of what the Amazon does for us, what it means to us, and what we can do to protect it from further harm.

The Amazon rainforest is a singular ecosystem in the world, an unimaginably huge basin that defines the climate and cultures of a continent. However, the largest rainforest on Earth does not limit its impact to the region in which it grows. The trees of the Amazon transpire water vapor that moves fresh water from the basin into the atmosphere, where it can be carried to all corners of the globe by wind currents. From the atmosphere, the trees siphon carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and emit oxygen as a byproduct.

Humans have been known to appreciate fresh water and oxygen, so we would do well to protect the source of an estimated 20% of the world’s fresh water and oxygen. The miraculous transaction of carbon and oxygen performed by the rainforest also carries consequences. By storing carbon in their cells, trees remove it from the atmosphere. When these cells die, destroyed by fires and logging, the carbon is reemitted. A forest that is a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs more than it emits, can quickly become a carbon source if its trees are subjected to unchecked human exploitation.

More on that process here, but the takeaway is this: rainforests are far more valuable to us in their living, standing form than as rolls of toilet paper or cleared land for cultivation. This is never truer than in the case of the Amazon.

From human rights to biodiversity to climate change, the issues you care about are represented and fought in the Amazon. The fires of the last few weeks threaten indigenous groups that have called the rainforest home for centuries, plant and animal biodiversity that has healed and inspired humans for generations, and the futures of our children as trees burst into flame and bleed carbon into the atmosphere.

When we speak of the importance of the Amazon and tropical rainforest at large, we do not just talk about trees half a world away. We talk about the raw source of life-saving medications. We talk about freshwater that is vital to human survival, even more so in the coming decades as climate change threatens traditional sources and alters rainfall patterns. We talk about bulwarks against erosion that destroys communities and displaces their inhabitants. Protecting the rainforests is about empathy, not only for the trees and animals that call them home but for people who have never even set foot in them yet are affected daily by the work they do. 

The destruction of the Amazon, while tragic, is not irreversible. Rainforest Partnership is working every day to protect indigenous communities, halt deforestation, and create nationally-recognized conservation and regeneration areas. Recent news of the scale of fires ravaging the rainforest has also prompted world leaders and the UN to declare the damage being done to the Amazon “an international crisis” and promise to add it to the agenda for the upcoming G7 conference in Biarritz. In the midst of tragedy, there is hope for action and inspiration to be found in the resolve of so many dedicated defenders of the Amazon. Join us today and help protect the rainforest: for the trees, for the animals, for ourselves and for our children.