Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Pledges $5M to Protect Amazon Rainforest Amid Fire Crisis

The Amazon, known as "the planet's lungs," produces 20 percent of Earth's oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change

Leonardo DiCaprio is using his newly minted environmental organization to set up a $5 million fund for the Amazon’s indigenous communities as fires continue to burn the rainforest at a record level.

Through Earth Alliance — which DiCaprio, Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth launched in July — the Amazon Forest Fund will provide money to local organizations working tirelessly to protect the Amazon and survive amid the massive blazes.

“Yesterday, we launched the Amazon Forest Fund, the first initiative from the newly formed @EarthAlliance,” DiCaprio announced on Instagram early Monday. “The fund was set up to help local partners and the indigenous communities on the front lines protecting the Amazon.”

Fires have been raging at a record rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for weeks, threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen in a disaster that activists say could drive further climate change. The Amazon, known as “the planet’s lungs,” produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change, CNN notes.

There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year (with more than half in its Amazon region), and satellite images have spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the county — mostly in the Amazon basin — since Thursday, according to CNN and Reuters, both citing Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Alliance officials announced on the organization’s social media that the money is intended to “focus critical resources for indigenous communities and other local partners working to protect the life-sustaining biodiversity of the Amazon.”

“We are deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in the Amazon, which highlights the delicate balance of climate, biodiversity, and the wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” officials said.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest, and the fires this year represent an 83 percent increase over the same period of 2018, Reuters reported.

Several environmentalists have said cattle ranchers and farmers intentionally set the fires to clear the land for their own use.

“These forests are not burned by accident — they are made to clear land for cattle grazing and soy production,” Daniel Brindis, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace, previously told PEOPLE. “The companies who profit off of these commodities are based in the U.S. We encourage consumers to demand companies not destroy the forests. There is enough land out there.”

Leonardo DiCaprio Brazil Amazon Fire
Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso/AP/Shutterstock; Inset: Masatoshi Okauchi/Shutterstock
Amazon fires
Amazon rainforest on fire. STR/AFP/Getty

INPE researchers have made similar statements.

“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said, according to Reuters. “The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”

Amid these claims, many have condemned Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who vowed to explore the Amazon’s economic potential and condemned deforestation warnings that could interfere with trade negotiations. Activists have also noted that the surge of fires began when he took office in January, Reuters reported.

Bolsonaro famously fired INPE leader Ricardo Galvão after Galvão spoke out about high deforestation rates. Bolsonaro said then that the findings were inaccurate, and the president appears to be taking a similar stance in the wake of news of the fires.

“I am waiting for the next set of numbers, that will not be made up numbers. If they are alarming, I will take notice of them in front of you,” he told reporters last week, according to Reuters.

Amid the mounting international pressure, Bolsonaro signaled on Friday that he was considering sending the country’s army to fight the fires, NPR reported. Over the weekend, the Brazilian military deployed troops to the fire zone and started releasing water from planes to combat the fires in the state of Rondonia, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

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Trees destroyed by the Amazon fires. Leo Correa/AP/Shutterstock

Concerned citizens, activists and celebrities alike have worked to draw national attention to the disaster. Along with DiCaprio, Gisele Bündchen, Jaden Smith, Madonna and more are shining a light on the impact the record-breaking Amazon rainforest fires have on the world.

“The forest plays a key role in balancing the Earth’s climate and consequently in our lives,” Bündchen, 39, wrote on Instagram. “We cannot close our eyes to what is happening in the Amazon.”

Madonna, 61, wrote on Instagram: “The Fires Are Raging and The Amazonia continues to burn………This is a devastation to Brazil—to the indigenous people who live there and the plant and animal species that make this the most important bio-diverse Forest!!!”

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