The Politics of the Amazon Fires

The fires in the Amazon Rainforest have captured the planet’s attention. The Amazonian fires which have been burning for weeks and have received less coverage than the Notre Dame’s fires is a symbol of humanity’s indifference to the environmental disorder, especially climate change. 

Climate change is not the only cause of wildfires. Most say that a majority of California blazes are sparked by accident and are then intensified by climate change.  However, the Amazonian fires are not wildfires at all. These fires did not start by a lightning strike or power line, they were lighted. The fires largely affect the land which is already cleared for ranching and farming. They have begun to spread into old-growth forest.

Brazil’s political leadership has changed in the past year. On January 1, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who has openly pined for his country’s authoritarian past, was sworn in as President. During his campaign, he promised to weaken Amazon’s environmental protections which have been effective at reducing deforestation for the past two decades and open up the rainforest to economic development.

Now he is making good on that promise. As the three Brazilian states which have witnessed the worst spikes of the fire this year have all been governed by Bolsonaro’s allies. The states which are governed by Bolsonaro’s political opponents have actually seen a decline in fires. Additionally, according to accusations by the global news site OpenDemocracy, leaked documents show that Bolsonaro’s government intends to strategically prevent conservation projects in the Amazon. 

Recognizing that the fires are a political problem as well as an environmental one does not make solving them any easier. Bolsonaro implied that environmental NGOs were behind the burning. Bolsonaro blames the NGOs for the burning as he is a right-winged politician and does not want minority groups to gain support from them. After President Emmanuel Macron of France called the fires a crisis, tweeting that “our house is burning,” Bolsonaro, accused Macron of a “misplaced colonial mindset.”

The Amazon rainforest does, in some sense, belong to Brazilians and the indigenous people who live there. But as a store of carbon, it is fundamental to the survival of every person. If destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is simply beyond humanity’s ability to get back. Even if people were to replant the entire region, the diversity of creatures across Amazonia, will not be replenished for almost 10 million years. And that is 33 times longer than homo sapiens, as a species, has existed.


Key Points/Takeaways:

  1. French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said separately last week they would move to reject a landmark European Union trade deal arranged with South America unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.
  2. This pact requires Latin America to obey by the Paris climate accord, which Bolsonaro has threatened to leave and also aims to end illegal deforestation, including in the Brazilian Amazon.
  3. In efforts to protect the forest, G7 countries (advanced economies in the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Monday agreed to provide more than $20m to help fight the fires. Canada and the UK pledged an additional $11m and $12m of aid. – This was announced by Macron
  4. Brazil’s government said it would reject the funding as it was going to affect the country’s sovereignty (supreme power or authority).

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