At the end of August, raging fires happening in the Amazon rainforests drew global attention. Instagram was flooded with informational stories and posts about an environmental travesty that was somehow flying under the radar of news and media outlets until public outcry became so loud, coverage of the fires was unavoidable.
However, destruction of the forest isn’t something that just started with the most recent wildfires. Since January, Brazil has lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover to development, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE. Also, since January, the Amazon has experienced 74,155 fires, an 85 percent increase since last year, according to INPE. With July and August being the beginning of Brazil’s dry season, this also isn’t just the end of the devastation.
An area that’s four times larger than Alaska, the Amazon is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet.” These fires, while destroying thousands of acres of trees that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, are now producing carbon dioxide and other dangerous toxins, such as nitrogen oxides and non-methane organic compounds, and emitting them into the atmosphere, according to Forbes.
These emissions will be trapped in the atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect and could have an impact on the atmospheric circulation that causes the melting of large ice sheets. The most diverse biome on the Earth, the Amazon houses one in ten species in the world and is home to one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh water, all of which are at risk. This destruction will have global impact. People across the country will feel the reaches of these fires. Drought will ensue in neighboring regions, which produce almost half of the world’s soybean production and about one-fifth of corn production because of deforestation.
The U.S. will also feel the effect because less rainfall in the Amazon and anticipated climate change will most likely affect U.S.’ precipitation as well. However, as many facts and figures exist as to how humans will suffer from these fires, the fact of the matter is that humans are to blame for a majority of them.
Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a climate-change skeptic who won the presidential election last year while campaigning for more land in the Amazon to be opened for farming, logging and mining. Since beginning his presidency, Bolsonaro has repeatedly instated opposers of environmental protection in offices throughout his administration.
Bolsonaro has also continued years of budget cuts and changing of previously established protection agencies by the Brazilian government, which has left the Amazon vulnerable. This spring, Bolsonaro cut IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency’s budget by 24 percent, an action which was eventually overturned – but not before the cutbacks had an impact on the agency’s authority: they were only able to issue a third of the fines issued in the same time period last year.
In addition to budget cuts, Bolsonaro has repeatedly made decisions based on personal vendettas, firing an IBAMA agent who issued him a ticket for illegal fishing in 2012, as well as firing the head of a Brazilian agency that reported a spike in deforestation in the Amazon.
As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is also home to over one million indigenous peoples, all divided into about 400 tribes, according to Survival International. Again, Bolsonaro has proven himself insensitive to the Amazon and its native people by making racist remarks. Bolsonaro has often made claims that Brazil’s growth and potential have been stunted by the protection granted to the indigenous peoples and the land they call home. Bolsonaro sees this land as a profitable resource which should be exploited.
In a 2015 interview with Campo Grande News, a Brazilian news outlet, Bolsonaro stated, “There is no indigenous territory where there are no minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.”
Through his actions and words, it’s evident that Bolsonaro has made his mind up on the trajectory of the Amazon rainforest. But as a region of such high global importance, as well as indigenous peoples and their culture, shouldn’t other countries be getting involved and stepping in to deter Bolsonaro from causing any further damage? Bolsonaro has claimed sovereignty as a defense for initially rejecting the $20 million aid package agreed upon by the G-7 Summit leaders. In a live Facebook broadcast Bolsonaro responded to these offers of aid by saying “These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty.”
However, the destruction of the Amazon warrants intervention by other countries. The atrocities against the environment and its own people by the actions and neglect of the Brazilian government are enough to disregard the defense of sovereignty. Standing by while Bolsonaro hides behind what he believes to be an impenetrable shield will only create a larger environmental and humanitarian crisis. The future of the Amazon will affect more than just the country of Brazil, and it is therefore up to countries other than Brazil to help protect it.
The Carrier’s editorial opinion represents the views of the senior members of the Campus Carrier and Viking Fusion news staff.