[The ongoing destruction of the Amazon is taking place because of
policy choices made by those who now rule Brazil]
[https://portside.org/] 

 FIRES ARE DEVOURING THE AMAZON. AND JAIR BOLSONARO IS TO BLAME  
[https://portside.org/2019-08-27/fires-are-devouring-amazon-and-jair-bolsonaro-blame]


 

 David Miranda 
 August 26, 2019
The Guardian
[https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/26/fires-are-devouring-the-amazon-and-jair-bolsonaro-is-to-blame]


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 _ The ongoing destruction of the Amazon is taking place because of
policy choices made by those who now rule Brazil _ 

 The raging fires have become so potent that the smoke they generate
plunged the Western Hemisphere’s largest city, São Paulo, into
total darkness’ , Victor Moriyama/AFP/Getty Images 

 

As the world watches in horror and terror as the Amazon burns,
scientists have made clear that the cause, principally if not
entirely, is human activity.

Here in Brazil [https://www.theguardian.com/world/brazil], that human
activity has human names and faces: those of Jair Bolsonaro, the
Brazilian president, and his extremist environment minister, Ricardo
Salles. They have not merely permitted these devastating fires, but
have encouraged and fueled them.

They have done so with a toxic brew of radical ideology, political
corruption and banal greed. Put simply, the ongoing destruction of the
Amazon is taking place because of policy choices made by those who now
rule Brazil.

The magnitude of these fires, and the severity of the dangers they
pose to the world, have been widely demonstrated over the last week.
As the New York Times reported on Wednesday, the National Institute
for Space Research documented that it “had detected 39,194 fires
this year in the world’s largest rain forest, a 77% increase from
the same period in 2018”.

The raging fires have become so potent that the smoke they generate
plunged the western hemisphere’s largest city, São Paulo, into
total darkness in the middle of the day on Tuesday. What was
particularly shocking about that sudden event was that the Amazonian
fires are hundreds of miles away from that city, but have become so
dense and overwhelming that they snuffed out light in that distant
major metropolis.

To the extent one can locate any silver lining in this literal dark
cloud, it is that the cause of these fires are almost entirely
manmade, which means they can be stopped with changes in human
behavior – specifically, with policy changes by Brazil’s new
government.

Bolsonaro’s election victory last November was a shock to the
Brazilian political system because, as a congressman for almost 30
years, his retrograde and unhinged views had relegated him to the
fringe of politics life. His presence in the congress was regarded by
most as a national embarrassment; that he would one day occupy the
presidential palace was unthinkable.

But as has happened in numerous other countries in the democratic
world, including the US, a series of crises and failures validly
attributed to the establishment class have driven large sections of
the country’s population into the arms of any self-styled outsider,
no matter how demagogic and radical.

Among Bolsonaro’s many extremist views is climate denialism as
stubborn and extreme as any prominent world figure, if not more so. He
has long dismissed the scientific consensus about climate scenarios as
a hoax. And he campaigned on an explicit pledge to exploit – ie
destroy – the Amazon, which currently provides 20% of the world’s
oxygen and which climate scientists widely regard as the most valuable
asset humanity possesses in our increasingly difficult battle to avoid
climate catastrophes.

Since his election, Bolsonaro has not only made good on his promises
to fundamentally subvert our country’s long-standing commitment to
protect the Amazon, but has done so with a speed and aggression that
has surprised even his most virulent critics. To be sure,
Bolsonaro’s predecessors – including those from the center-left
Workers’ Party – have earned their share of valid criticisms from
environmentalists for harming the Amazon for industrial gain. But –
after just eight moths in office – Bolsonaro’s damage to the
world’s greatest rain forest is in an entirely different universe of
magnitude.

Deforestation is an affirmative goal of Bolsonaro. That can be
achieved by cutting down trees or, more efficiently, by simply burning
large areas that Brazil’s agricultural industry wants to exploit. It
also means displacing the indigenous tribes that have lived in those
forests for centuries: people for whom Bolsonaro has repeatedly
expressed contempt. Their displacement from those lands has often been
accomplished with violence against environmental activists and
indigenous leaders.

Bolsonaro’s choice for his environment minster, Ricardo Salles from
the so-called New Party (Partido Novo), exemplifies the radical and
even violent anti-environmentalism fueling these fires. Last year,
Salles, while serving as a state environmental official in São Paulo,
was found guilty of administrative improprieties for having altered a
map to benefit mining companies.

He was fined and deprived of his political rights – including his
right to seek elected office – for eight years. Bolsonaro evidently
viewed these transgressions as a virtue since he announced his
selection of Salles to serve in his cabinet a mere three weeks after
his conviction.

In 2018, Salles – now the custodian of the Brazilian Amazon – ran
for federal Congress with a political ad that displayed bullets from a
rifle as his solution for environmental activists, indigenous tribes
impeding the destruction of their land, and “leftists”. Salles
lost his bid for congress, but was rewarded with a much more powerful
position: Bolsonaro’s environment minister.

Bolsonaro and Salles view deforestation as such a pressing priority
that they openly despise anyone who seeks to impede it. Earlier this
month, Bolsonaro fired a top scientist after he warned the country
that deforestation was taking place at an unprecedented and dangerous
rate. Last month, when a reporter asked Bolsonaro about the damage
being done to the environment by his industrial policies, the
president contemptuously told the reporter he should defecate less:
“One day yes, one day no.” And, in the face of rising political
pressure over the Amazonian fires, he infamously, and baselessly,
blamed environmental groups this week for having started them.

The agencies charged with safeguarding the nearly one million
indigenous people in Brazil have suffered such severe budget cuts
under Bolsonaro that they are now barely functioning. During the
campaign, he vowed: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for
indigenous reserves or quilombolas.” In late July, gold miners
invaded an indigenous village and one of its leaders was stabbed to
death.

All of these dramatic changes have occurred not only from ideology but
also political captivity. Along with rightwing evangelicals and
supporters of Brazil’s past military dictatorship, Brazil’s
powerful agribusiness sector is a critical component of the coalition
that swept Bolsonaro into office.

Their gamble on Bolsonaro has paid dividends: a huge array of
previously banned pesticides has been approved for use this year with
virtually no debate or study. One result: the death of 500 million
bees in the last three months alone.

Worst of all, deforestation is consuming the Amazon at a horrifically
rapid pace. As the New York Times put it this week: “The destruction
of the Amazon rainforest
[https://www.theguardian.com/environment/amazon-rainforest] in Brazil
has increased rapidly since the nation’s new far-right president
took over and his government scaled back efforts to fight illegal
logging, ranching and mining.”

The government agency responsible for monitoring deforestation
documented the loss of “1,330 sq miles of forest cover in the first
half of 2019, a 39% increase over the same period last year”.

What the world is witnessing is as deliberate as it is dangerous. It
is insufficient, and arguably offensive, for already developed and
rich western powers which have done so much damage to the planet to
simply dictate to Brazil that it must not exploit its resources the
way the west has done with such great environmental damage.

But the world also cannot stand by and let the Bolsonaro government
destroy the Amazon. In lieu of unilateral decrees that smack of
arrogant colonialism, rich industrialized countries who need the
Amazon to survive should fund social programs for poor Brazilians who
compose a large majority of our supremely unequal country, in exchange
for preservation of this vital environmental asset.

Identifying the culprit – Bolsonaro and Salles – is necessary but
not sufficient to avert the environmental disaster. The Amazon belongs
to Brazil, but the need to save the planet belongs to all of humanity,
and all of us must bear this burden collectively.

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_David Miranda is a federal __congressman in Brazil representing the
state of Rio de Janeiro with the Party of Socialism and Liberty
(PSOL)_

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