A real photo of the Amazon basin on fire, taken in northern Mato Grosso State on 23 August 2019 (Photo: JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images)

The Amazon needs us to do something ordinary

Brazil’s rainforests are ablaze, and even from the distance of New Zealand, many of us are losing sleep. For the climate and for humanity, we can do something profound and simple, writes Kena Duignan

I’ve asked my dad to look after my kids yesterday so I could write this, after a night of not sleeping much while thoughts of the Amazon burning kept flickering in my brain. The grief of this assault on Papatūānuku is another of the all too constant assaults on our hearts and brains recently. As our environment is pummeled, so are we, with scary and disconnected factoids and images, one piling on top of the other. Today’s facts are that the Amazon is on fire, and that the rates of burning are increasing to levels not seen in the last two decades.

I’m turning away from this pummeling and towards what we need to do about it. I believe we, as ordinary people, don’t need to be gathering more scraps of information about the impacts of climate change. We can leave that to scientists in each of their fields. The sheer amount of scary and disconnected information is too much for our wee brains to do anything useful with. Instead we need to be doing our bit.

I want to be clear about what I mean by “our bit”. I’m sorry, but “our bit” is not buying another resusable coffee cup, although I will keep using mine. “Our bit” is about being ordinary people, connecting together and taking political action. Embracing our ordinariness as mothers, and neighbours, and workers and using it as a strength, not a weakness.

Climate action is something ordinary people are ready for, now. We already have all we need to take action, both at our fingertips and just past our front doors. The solution is connection with your communities online and in person. The solution is connecting and focusing together on our shared vision of a great future for all of us ordinary people. The solution is political action each week from each of us ordinary people.

So how are you connecting? Who are you voting for in these local body elections? Who are the candidates putting climate action at the front of their agenda? When are you signing up to door knock or deliver leaflets for them? Which companies and politicians are you writing letters to? Who are you talking to about your vision of a great future with a stable climate? In your whānau? At your work? Which is the local tree planting group you will join?

My great-grandfather Lewis Skinner used to plant kauri. When he returned to New Zealand from being at war he started to plant trees, kauri trees that are now towering giants. Yesterday we went out planting trees too – two tōtara, one kahikatea and a kauri for my great-grandfather. Connecting while planting. Trees that Count work to count the native trees planted throughout New Zealand, and help communities to plant more. As of yesterday, they had a total of 27,427,962 trees planted since 2016. We added another four to that yesterday and I have no doubt others were out planting too. That’s what we do when we are trying to restore something we’ve broken. We fix it.

I think that the secret to all of this might just be in rejecting the constant fight and divisions, and instead building connections and the great future we want. Everything that we are facing today is the result of greed and individualism pushed on us to benefit the few at the expense of most.

A few people’s greed and individualism is what stole our connection to the earth and each other, and it is what is fueling those fires being lit in the Amazon. But those fires can fuel us, too, towards connection and action. We already have the leaders we need. They include the indigenous people in the Amazon, and those at home in Aotearoa who have maintained their connection to both the land and people. They have always been generous and staunch in their knowledge of the strength to be found in connection.

I know I am not the only one who can’t sleep about this. I know I’m not the only one who sometimes stands still in a quiet panic in the supermarket because choosing between which is the right kind of milk to buy doesn’t feel like enough when the Amazon is on fire. I am going to keep taking action, and talking about it while I do so that I can connect with you. We need to share our dreams and worries and our actions, so that others can join in. In this we will find the answers, and restore the world that we know we can have.

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