The Brazilian Amazon is experiencing its worst forest fires in over a decade. President Bolsonaro is to blame for his loosening of forest protection and encouragement of slash and burn practices, clearing land for agricultural profit.
According to the Brazilian space agency INPE, the number of fires has increased by 82 percent since January, compared to the same period last year. More than 88,000 fires have been registered so far, destroying nature reserves and lands belonging to the indigenous population.
These fires are burning because Brazil´s president Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged clearing land for agricultural use, in order to bolster industry profit. Fires are a key tool used by farmers to clear land for cattle grazing and planting crops. Small patches of deforestation have created dried-out fringe areas, which also catch fire easily.
This not only drives the loss of the world´s green lung, but also leads to the cruel death of thousands of animals, possibly even to the point of extinction. Who knows how many undiscovered animals, plants, or even indigenous groups will be lost.
Bolsonaro´s promotion of business has meant that Brazil´s forests are less protected. The head of state is closely allied with the Brazilian agricultural lobby and has relaxed environmental requirements. Monthly data shows the scale of the areas cleared has been creeping up since January, but with a spike in July this year – almost 278% higher than in July 2018.
A BBC analysis found that the record number of fires also coincides with a sharp drop in fines being handed out for environmental violations.
The country’s space agency INPE, which tracks Amazon deforestation, took a blow when Bolsonaro fired the man in charge, Ricardo Galvão, accusing him of “lies” over the clearances. Many see this as an act of vengeance for trying to state the truth.
Furthermore, Bolsonaro has claimed that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could have set the forest fires in order to take revenge for the cancellation of public funds and discredit his government.
Under increasing international pressure, Bolsonaro issued a decree on Thursday prohibiting the burning of land for 60 days. He had previously rejected emergency aid granted by the G7 to fight the fires. He later gave in and declared that he would accept the aid under certain conditions.
This potentially catastrophic disaster in the Brazilian Amazon just goes to show how important it is to vote for a leader with sound environmental values. Currently the focus is on the meat and soy industry as being the drivers of this evil. Clearly, if there was less demand for low cost meat, leather, and soy, the business would not be as profitable and eager to grow. There is no question that we must all evaluate the choices we make regarding food, clothing, and lifestyle, and aim to reduce and reuse.
However, under a different president, who sees the value in and helps protect the environment, indigenous peoples and their values, biodiversity in flora and fauna, and realises the importance of the Amazon as a carbon sink and lung of the world, the situation would be very different.
Photo credit: NASA