Neighbors suck sometimes. They blow leaves into your yard and their rottweiler will get under your fence and dig up your rutabagas and often you have half a mind to go over there and give them a stern talking to. Sometimes, they’ll do something so insane that it disrupts the whole neighborhood—maybe they decide to burn a bunch of tires in their backyard and the smoke is so dense it gets in everyone’s lungs. When this happens, usually the neighborhood bands together, maybe as a homeowners association, and takes action against them. Basically, what I am saying is that the global community needs to intervene in Brazil, where instead of a backyard tire fire is an earth threatening wildfire.
Brazil holds claim over much of the Amazon rainforest. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon houses the largest collection of living plants and animals as well as multiple groups of indigenous peoples. Additionally, the Amazon acts as one of the largest carbon sinks on earth as well as providing the planet with a vital source of oxygen. Despite its importance, the global community continues to fail at protecting it.
For decades, conservation of the Amazon was often brushed aside in pursuit of capital, and under Brazil’s president Jair Bolsanaro the destruction of the Amazon is set to accelerate. Bolsonaro emboldened land grabbers with his election, his laissez-faire attitude towards protectionism amounted to ignoring and even encouraging people armed with chainsaws and kerosene to slash and burn their way through indigenous lands and ancient forests, clearing space for soybean farming and cattle ranching.
Bolsonaro champions himself as “Captain Chainsaw”, a cartoonishly evil moniker he gave himself, albeit ironically, to display his support for abusing the Amazon in the name of economic development. Bolsonaro insists that Brazil has suffered because of foreign interventionism in the Amazon, claiming that bad actors have lied about the numbers of its destruction. Now free reign has been given to cause havoc, and the numbers of wildfires in the Amazon, many man-made, have hit record highs.
Wanton attitude towards the Amazon’s destruction predates Bolsonaro, though under his presidency the situation is so dire that it now threatens the whole earth. Already, human activity going back a half a hundred years cleared one-fifth of the Amazon, an area so large that the resulting carbon released by its destruction negated the forest’s ability to store carbon. Now, scientists say that if another fifth is lost the entire forest will collapse, becoming dry enough that it will start a process of dieback, a feedback loop that will consume the Amazon in wildfire until the entire ecosystem is gone. The resulting environmental impact would be catastrophic for our atmosphere and deeply accelerate the warming of the planet. The immediacy of this threat means that in needs to become a priority in the fight against climate change.
With this is mind, someone needs to take action — preferably a large enough global coalition that could wield significant power over the Brazillian government, through sanctions or other means. Sadly, action will probably have to be taken without the support of the American government, whose president has sung praise for Bolsanaro and who has agricultural businesses actively funding some of the Amazon’s destruction. For countries like the United States, who’s governments won’t condemn Brazil’s actions with any real severity, it is vital that non-governmental organizations cultivate a movement in their stead. It’s time that environmental groups and human rights groups protest more militantly against the destruction of a vital ecosystem and homeland of indigenous groups. They need to organize boycotts of Brazillian goods – like cattle and soybeans, persuade their representatives to oppose any further destruction of the rainforest and stage disruptive protests to gather media attention to the issue. The destruction of the Amazon puts everyone at risk and there is no room to play nice.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.