The fires raging at the edges of the Amazon rain forest largely are consuming lands that already had been converted from their natural state into tracts waiting to be farmed or developed. Nevertheless, some of the blazes are eating away at the rain forest itself, reducing its size by a football field a minute. And one of the most disturbing things about them is that they aren’t part of the cycle of nature, but intentionally are set in many cases to get rid of brush and felled trees to make way for soy fields and beef grazing grounds.
The reason the Amazon is burning is because Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro thinks the Amazon should not be protected, and that lands reserved for indigenous peoples should not be recognized.
At the just-concluded G-7 meeting in France, international leaders criticized Bolsonaro for his land-use and environmental policies, which include telling those who would cut the rain forest that his government would no longer stop them. So the rate of deforestation, while still far below what it had been a dozen years ago, has been increasing. The G-7 also announced more than $20 million in aid to Brazil and Bolivia for firefighting equipment — a drop in the bucket considering the need, advocates say — and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to put together an alliance to push for reforestation.
Bolsonaro was not receptive; he accused the leaders of embracing colonialism by telling Brazil what to do. But there’s nothing colonial in asking a neighbor to stop lighting fires that affect the rest of us.
The Amazon rain forest, with its vast canopy of trees and other lush vegetation, removes about 5 percent of the global carbon humans emit into the atmosphere every year. That positive effect is offset to a degree by the carbon released by burning brush and trees in and around the rain forest, as well as by the cattle that roam the range that is taking up acreage carved from the rain forest — much of whose beef is destined for foreign markets.
So what does the deforestation of the Amazon have to do with us?
The U.S. imports about 156 million pounds of beef from Brazil each year, which means our consumption is tied directly to the deforestation (Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef). Even Trump’s trade war with China has an environmental impact: China is replacing soy that it used to buy from U.S. farmers with soy from Brazilian farmers, which increases the rewards for cutting yet more of the rain forest.
We are all joined by the hard reality that our continued release of carbon into the atmosphere — whether it be from the cars we commute in or the forest Brazilians burn to grow food — is endangering us all.
Los Angeles Times