A remorseless fire is tearing through the Amazon Rainforest. Swathes of ancient and beautiful forest are being burnt. Globally, important figures try to grab the headlines by scrambling to respond. President Macron led the call for international aid; Leonardo DiCaprio pledged five million dollars to put out the fires. All the while, Bolivian aeroplanes try desperately to climb out of the smoke, pinpricks against the raging inferno below.
The response of President Bolsonaro of Brazil has been farcical. Initially accusing NGOs of using the fire as retaliation to government policies, the Brazilian president later bowed to international pressure, including the threat of economic sanctions, by withdrawing the comment and deploying troops to combat what he terms the “Amazon’s inferno”. Beside this, in Trump-esque fashion, Bolsonaro decided to divert attention by calling President Macron’s wife “ugly”.
We are ill-prepared for what is to come. That’s the simple and horrifying truth. Regardless as to whether you consider climate change a hoax, or dismiss protecting the wildlife of the rainforest as a middle-class past-time, the facts speak for themselves. The Amazonian rainforest consumed (in its pre-fire form) 40% of the carbon dioxide produced globally, and the fires have catastrophic results. Forest fires trigger a vicious cycle. As the rainforest burns, the dry season is prolonged, feeding further fire. Bolsonaro’s encouragement to farmers to clear the forest for agriculture had seen a stark rise in forest fires even before this one.
In addition, clearing the forests to replace them with cattle herds means a steep rise in methane production, which is a greenhouse gas 2.5 as dangerous as carbon dioxide. Intensive campaigning by vegetarians and vegans both on and offline has yet to have any valuable consequences on this front. Deforestation is unlikely to be stopped any time soon. Yet tragedies like this are most common where protecting the biodiversity is most essential.
So, what must we do?
The natural cycle of reforestation after a fire takes longer than our world can afford. Bolsonaro’s intensification of deforestation shows a genuine desire for economic development amongst the people of Brazil. To save our rainforests, we need to give Brazilian farmers an alternate livelihood.
Other areas need similar solutions. Population sizes are growing at an unprecedented rate, whilst families scramble to feed more and more hungry mouths. Industrial development demands ever-increasing raw materials and produces ever-more pollution.
It can be frustrating when well-meaning Western aid is perceived as colonialism. And crucially, any realistic prospect for tackling this issue relies on engaging with the farmers and herders on the ground. Blindly refusing to understand their needs and desires is costing us dearly. We must do better.
The Macron-ian way of churning out grand visions and instigating systematic overhauls seems arrogant to most. But we need vision and determination to preserve our world’s health now and into the future. There can be no place for the well-meaning warm words and little action of the Paris Agreement in the era of environmental emergencies.