The Amazon burns: will the world learn?

by Molly Scott Cato MEP and Rupert Read

This article was first published in Green World.

The Amazon rainforest is burning. Brazil has had more than 72,000 fire outbreaks so far this year, an 84 per cent increase on the same period in 2018, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research.

Why is this happening? It is happening because people are systematically setting fires in the forest. This unimaginable, absurd, ecocidal action is probably the crime of the century so far. It could be terminal for human civilisation.

It is happening also because of corporate greed. Major corporations from the global North are deeply implicated in the destruction

Around a fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed and scientists warn that losing another fifth could trigger a ‘feedback loop’, which could see the forest begin to dry out, burn and collapse. As the world’s largest land-based carbon sink this could lead to runaway climate change and the end of life on earth as we know it.

This is not an exaggeration. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The burning of the Amazon places the planet on red alert. To repeat, the Amazon is a globally significant ecosystem and carbon sink, vital in the fight against climate breakdown and the extinction crisis. If we lose it, our planet and civilization faces meltdown. The Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, is encouraging this torching of the forest to appease his agricultural paymasters so they can use the land for beef, cattle and soya. He is guilty of ecocide and politicians across the globe must stand up to this environmental criminal.

Bolsonaro is destroying the entire future of Earth in real time. We should be willing to think of truly radical remedies. We must be really big, brave and fast, or it’s game over. This is worse even than anything Trump’s done.

Since the 1970s, nearly 800,000 square kilometres (km²) – an area equivalent to that of Turkey, and bigger than that of Texas – of Brazil’s original four million km² (1.5 million square miles) of Amazon forest has been lost to logging, farming, mining, roads, dams and other forms of development. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 67 per cent since President Jair Bolsonaro came into power.

What, concretely, is to be done? Molly Scott Cato is urging her fellow MEPs in the European Parliament to block a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur – an economic bloc comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. The EU-Mercosur agreement – the largest in Europe’s history, according to officials – would make it cheaper for Brazilian farmers to export agricultural products, particularly beef, despite growing evidence that cattle ranching is the primary driver of deforestation.

The EU has already agreed the deal in principle, but it still needs to be ratified by MEPs. Brazil is drastically failing to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement or protect the rights of indigenous forest communities. These are sufficient grounds for MEPs to block Mercosur. Close to the numbers needed are willing to vote to stop this trade agreement, a move that will send a powerful message to the Bolsonaro regime.

The Mercosur agreement hangs on a knife-edge. Please lobby your MEPs now to urge them to reject it. Please also sign the petition calling on the European Commission to scrap the planned Mercosur agreement for the benefit of the people and environment on both sides of the Atlantic.

Intensifying agriculture harms indigenous people. A new report by Alex Thomson for Channel 4 News, aired in June, revealed the extent of the destruction due to illegal logging and cattle ranchers. He reported that ‘Bolsonaro wants the Amazon rainforest destroyed and said Brazil should wipe out indigenous tribes’. He also reports that the president ‘wants to give every rancher a gun’.

Now this situation is suddenly far worse. Indigenous peoples, the guardians of the rainforest, are literally having their homes burnt out.

The UK Government must take action. The burning of the Amazon rainforest and the desolation of its inhabitants is now a planetary emergency. This is a real test for the government. If it is serious about anthropogenic dangerous climate change it will work with EU partners to impose sanctions on Brazil until there are guarantees from the Bolsonaro government that it will act to stop this destruction. Shamefully, as of now the government is not even offering any real criticism of the devastation of the world’s lungs. 

‘Consumers’ too can take action. We can all play our part in this unfolding calamity. We should boycott Brazilian produce, especially beef and soya, which is responsible for much of the rainforest destruction. 

Although the Amazon is part of Brazilian territory, it is of global importance. Bolsonaro’s nationalist claims that attempts to preserve the rainforest by European is neo-colonialist are Trumpist excuses for complicity, but we must respect and uphold the extraordinary work undertaken by indigenous Amazonians in defending their forest, for which many have sacrificed their lives. We must work with and respectfully support the work of organisations like Guardians of the Forest, and NGO of forest dwellers defending their land and their homes across the world.

We are angry. We are scared. We are in grief. If you are too, then please join us now, in seeking to act.

 

[Thanks to Olga Szubert for vital research on this article.]

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