By LIAM JEFFRIES
As I write this, the Lungs of the Earth are burning in front of the world’s eyes.
The Amazon rainforest has been ravaged by forest fires for the past five weeks at least. The fires are fast enough to have burned three football fields of rainforest a minute at their peak, and the smoke plumes are thick and large enough to be seen clearly from space. It’s an unmitigated catastrophe, a forest fire to end all forest fires. And it’s being set by human hands.
The consensus is unanimous at this point that the Amazon is burning thanks to the actions of Brazilian beef producers, who continue setting fires to clear land for large cattle pastures. The fires are blatantly illegal, running afoul of Brazilian environmental laws, but they’ve been encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s Trump-like leader who campaigned heavily on relaxing environmental protections on the Amazon for these beef producers’ benefit, to the point that he jokingly called himself “Captain Chainsaw” on the campaign trail.
The result of this is an 85% spike in fires from last year in a rainforest that has already lost a fifth of its area since the 1970s, and it’s leading us towards a dangerous environmental tipping point, for the Amazon is not just a biological marvel and a home for over a million indigenous residents, but a crucial tool in fighting climate change.
Under normal circumstances, when not under threat, the Amazon acts as a giant sponge, absorbing over 2 billion tons of Co2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. This, along with its responsibility for 20% of the world’s oxygen, makes it an extremely important part of the Earth’s ecosystem and a critical buffer in the fight against climate change.
Given this level of importance in maintaining stable climates the world over, there has been much warranted worry about the fires both within and outside Brazil. Two weeks ago multiple protests were staged in cities throughout the country, and internationally there have been numerous protests outside Brazilian embassies, the international response reaching a crescendo last week when the G7 offered millions of dollars in aid to fight the fires.
There’s only one person who seems not to care as much as everyone else, however: Jair Bolsonaro.
When presented with the G7’s aid, instead of accepting it, he immediately and angrily rejected it, claiming it represented a “colonial mindset” by the European nations offering it (never mind that he’s denigrated the indigenous peoples of Brazil to the point that one of their leaders has stated he’s perpetuating a genocide against them). Before this he had attempted to divert blame for the fires, without proof, to international NGOs, and throughout this whole ordeal, in keeping with his position of climate denialism, he has repeatedly downplayed the impact of the fires, even accusing world leaders sounding the alarm of “sensationalizing” them.
On top of the illegal nature of the fires themselves, it’s these actions from Bolsonaro that make the Amazon fires not merely an environmental disaster, but an international crime. While he has finally pledged at least some action to fight the fires, by letting the fires burn this long to begin with, Bolsonaro has actively and intentionally harmed the entire world, for it’s not hyperbole to say that if these fires cost us the Amazon, that’s it.
Our progress in fighting climate change would be rendered useless in the wake of the sheer amount of carbon that would be released into the atmosphere. Climate change would be accelerated, and the World would be a much less habitable place to live for everyone and everything on it.
So be worried about this, and call people. Call your representatives and implore them to exert pressure on Brazil and Bolsonaro, and tell them to send a message to him that we as a country will simply not tolerate this act of environmental sabotage. While there are many things affecting the world’s future that are beyond our control, in this case, we have real power to change the situation for the better.