This Is Not Incompetence: It’s A Design- Fires Blaze Across Brazil’s Amazon Forest Despite Bolsonaro’s Denial

This month, fires are once again blazing across the Amazon rain-forest in Brazil, destroying one of the world’s most valuable defences against climate change and endangering the safety and security of the region’s inhabitants and ecosystems. Meanwhile, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, continues to insist that there are, in fact, no fires.

“This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers,” Bolsonaro said in a meeting with South American officials on the August 11, 2020. Despite his denial, currently his own citizens are battling fires that are destroying their homes and livelihoods in northwestern regions like Porto Velho. “Every year I suffer from this. Nobody knows who does this. They come and burn everything and run away,” said bricklayer Rosalino de Oliveira according to Reuters, “We are poor. I can barely feed my family on my salary. The fire comes to destroy everything in a matter of seconds.”

Already, Express reports, the first 10 days of August has seen 10,136 blazes across the Amazon, which is an increase of 17% from the same period last year. Experts warn that there is worse to come. Ane Alencar, director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), said: “I’m really worried. We can expect a catastrophic burning season.” The Climate Observatory, comprised of more than 30 non-governmental groups, predict that there could be around 13,000 square kilometres of deforestation this year, three times more than the National Climate Change Policy target for 2020. “This is not because of government incompetence in combating devastation”, they clarified in a statement, “it has been happening because the Bolsonaro administration’s agenda is to actively promote devastation. This is not incompetence; it’s a design.”

According to experts, large fires in a healthy rain-forest are very rare and these blazes are mostly started deliberately by speculators to clear land for pasture. Bolsonaro, elected to office last January, promised to open more of the Amazon to development, stating that the mining and farming industries are the solution to the region’s poverty. Over the past year, his government have been working to dismantle environmental laws and agencies that protect Amazonian land. Critics say that this vision of economic development has emboldened illegal loggers, miners and land speculators to destroy the forest. As a result, both through “legal” and illegal means, the Amazon has taken a hit, with deforestation numbers surging since Bolsonaro took office last year.

However, while Bolsonaro’s industrial reclamation of the Amazon was initially intended to attract foreign investment, investors are being put off by the unsavoury methods involved. Last month, global investors managing more than $2 trillion threatened to pull their investments out of Brazil’s meat-packers, grains traders and government bonds if Bolsonaro’s administration didn’t take action on Amazonian destruction. In response, Bolsonaro imposed a 120-day ban on deforestation, deploying the military and stationing troops in several states as a preventative measure ahead of the “burning season”. However, the increase in this year’s fires clearly shows that these measures have been ineffective.

As the world’s largest rain-forest, the Amazon’s capacity to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, makes it a vital component in the fight against climate change. Furthermore, these fires and the related illegal commercial activities put the human residents of the Amazon at risk. Unfortunately, Bolsonaro is clearly prepared to forfeit the loss of an invaluable global resource and the safety of his most vulnerable citizens, for short-term national profit. While international scolding has proven ineffective, Bolsonaro will be influenced by the threat of foreign investment withdrawal since this is the primary motivation behind the Amazon’s destruction. While last month’s ban has largely failed to prevent deforestation, it does show how international cooperation from global businesses and governments can influence the actions of the president. Moving forward, global investors need to coordinate and use this influence to create a continuous and effective standard of protection for the Amazon rain-forest.

Rafaela Alford
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