In August this year, the Amazon rainforest was enveloped in flames for the pursuit of farmable land. Since 2018, President Jair Bolsonaro has led the nation into a spiral of populist politics and environmental genocide. Whilst forest fires are a natural part of life and renewal, this has gone too far. As it is, the events over the last few months fit into a larger narrative. With a mix of far-right values, delusion and general malarkey, Brazil is more corrupt than ever.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
Most of the Amazon is located in Brazil and is categorised into either legal or non-legal Amazon. Legal Amazon means that the forest is protected under environmental laws and occupied by Indigenous communities. The non-legal Amazon is land that has been sold for agricultural purposes, usually cattle ranching. It is important to understand the distinction between the two sides of the Amazon. It is not illegal to burn portions of the forest for farm use; this has been happening for years. However, the current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has allowed existing laws to be broken and for fires that burn in the non-legal parts to spill over to the legal parts. This is where the problem really lies. Usually, if a farmer breaks environmental guidelines, they are fined. However, if the government turns a blind eye and even encourages these actions, then there is no incentive to uphold the law. Bolsonaro has consistently denied his part in the fires. Instead, he states that it is the NGOs that are igniting the embers as a way to humiliate him, whilst at the same time wanting to roll back the environmental guidelines that no one seems to be keeping. At the G7 Summit this year, nations decided to send $22 million to aid the protection of the forest. G7 refers to the ‘Group of Seven’, which is an organisation made up of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, this aid was rejected by Bolsonaro, as he wants to develop the protected lands and had a ‘falling out’ with the French President, Emmanuel Macron. Bolsonaro’s entire administration has been characterised by playing the blame game, ignoring facts and evidence and obsessing over paranoid induced conspiracy theories.
Green Is For Money, Not For Trees
You are probably wondering: why would any country elect such a man? But Bolsonaro has been appealing to the hunger for economic progress that exists amongst the Brazilian population. Some say that economic opportunities that have arisen out of the US-China trade war, which has led people to believe that burning unprotected and protected land is not only beneficial for the economy, but a right they hold. More farmable land means more cattle, which means more exported beef, which means economic growth. Whilst burning forest is a natural and important part of the survival of an ecosystem, there is only so much it can take before regrowth slows down. By not allowing enough time in between fires for the land to recover, secondary forests become less capable of regrowing. This also prevents the absorption of carbon which has been reduced by 10 per cent, and this number is growing.
The fires in the Amazon perfectly sum up an age-old dilemma with neo-liberalism: that profit is better than its consequences. The general population of Brazil do not seem too concerned with the effects heavy deforestation can have on the ecosystem and themselves, even as smoke engulfs Sao Paulo. Whether this is a lack of education or a lack of care, there is still a more sinister explanation for this attitude, which dates back to Portuguese colonisation.
Image Credit: Business Insider
Nothing We Haven’t Seen Before
Ripping resources from the earth and destroying Indigenous livelihood is far from new in Brazil. When the Portuguese came in 1500, they saw the vast forests and saw an opportunity—as any good colonialist would. Since their harvesting and deforestation, many Indigenous cultures and native species have vanished from the world. The British also used the Amazon as a way to extract rubber. A notable rubber plantation was Fordlandia, which was owned by the infamous Henry Ford. On this plantation alone, the Indigenous peoples were forced into slavery to destroy their own land. Since the settlement of the Portuguese roughly up to 90 per cent of the Indigenous population have disappeared. However, greed knows no bounds, especially in a country that has never fully felt the remorse of their past. Despite land rights for these communities, Bolsonaro encouraged farmers to scorch the earth for the sake of a few bucks. It is clear to note that Brazil, much like many other former colonial settlements, have a hard time letting go of their entitlement to land and people.
As the deforestation season in Brazil comes to an end, there seems to be no end to Bolsonaro’s tyranny on the environment.
Despite the current government’s loathsome opinion of NGOs, it is more important than ever to regain and regrow the Amazon. The Amazon rainforest has long provided the human race with air and diverse ecosystems; so we owe it to ‘Earth’s lungs’, protection from those who wish to destroy it.