The essence of Brazilian freedom and democracy has been torched to a cinder. Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right programme of ethno-supremacist disaster-capitalism has brought with it destituteness for Brazil’s poor and most vulnerable, devastation for its minorities and indigenous peoples, and dismay for political opponents and dissidents. In recent weeks alone, Bolsonaro has launched explosive, indiscriminate tirades against indigenous young girls, the Norwegian government and journalists bold enough to question his reckless rhetoric.
However, there is no doubt that his most brutal assault to date is the scorched-earth war he has waged and supported on the beating heart of all life on our planet: the Amazon rainforest.
The fight to save the Amazon embodies the struggle to reverse impending climate catastrophe – both are perilously edging closer to the alarming point of no return.
Home to breathtaking biodiversity and spectacular species, as one of Earth’s largest carbon sinks, the Amazon’s importance is impossible to overstate. As a fundamental component of global climate constancy, the rainforest dictates everything from the nature of cloud cover to the direction of ocean currents. It constitutes 40% of our planet’s tropical forests, and yields a fifth of the oxygen that flows through our lungs. Nearly four million square kilometres – an area just less than the complete span of the European Union – of thick vegetation lies within Brazil, and it is disappearing right before us in what is the most selfish, short-sighted and sinister vanishing act in human history.
Cities across South America, some thousands of miles away from the Amazon basin, have been shrouded in wretched black smog – a heartbreaking blend of thick carbon and the remnants of defenceless trees and wildlife, not to mention the tons of carbon dioxide released along the way. Bolsonaro has brought forth a brutal agenda of extraction and depletion that is both reshaping Brazil’s natural landscape, and the fate of our collective future. By dismantling environmental protection, discrediting climate agencies and encouraging ruthless forest clearance in favour of his country’s agricultural and mining lobbies, he has opted for the Trumpian path of an all-out attack on the truth, sucking up to big corporations bent on furthering the interests of already wealthy shareholders alone.
The fight to save the Amazon embodies the struggle to reverse impending climate catastrophe – both are perilously edging closer to the alarming point of no return. Just like the rise of a couple of degrees in ocean temperature spells irreversible climate calamity, mass deforestation irreparably inhibits the Amazon’s ability to regenerate and flourish. And yet, by promoting industries that are driving global warming and habitat obliteration, Bolsonaro has actively encouraged the acceleration of this dual disaster. We can’t be bystanders in the face of this injustice – we need to act, and fast.
This unprecedented ecological destruction amounts to a crime against humanity and against the natural world; it is a crime against the health of our planet and its habitability for future generations. None of us can escape its consequences.
Even after weeks of horror, you can’t help but feel that mainstream media outlets and political commentators are more concerned about Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and investors’ reaction to their latest generation of firesticks, than they are about the frightful forest fires foraying through our planet’s most crucial natural sanctuary. One grows exponentially, while the other is fighting for survival. When those who guide public conversation and draft policy are inaudible and inept on issues that matter, it’s up to ordinary people, who sense the urgency and magnitude of the crisis to force through a commensurate response.
If we are serious about protecting the Amazon basin and overcoming climate change together, then European countries must act in swift and principled fashion. Even a boycott of Brazilian products should not be ruled out. Germany and Norway have taken a positive step in withholding their contributions to the Brazilian government, but the EU-Mercosur agreement, the so-called landmark transatlantic trade deal between South America and the European Union, should also be discarded as dead in the water. We can’t conceivably proceed as though everything is okay and ratify it. Despite his threats, Bolsonaro did not withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, but his commitment to it is continuously and irrefutably negated by his anti-science vitriol and his aggression in the Amazon. How can we choose cheaper trade for the next few years at the expense of climate health and security on Earth for the next few centuries and beyond? Cries from within Brazil from those living in the shadows of the devastation in Amazonas, Rondônia and the like are falling on deaf ears. It’s up to the international community, and tangible pressure from consumers to politicians, to every public figure with a platform, for Bolsonaro to be beaten.
With all the talk of Green new deals and increased climate awareness, this is the first litmus test for us as ordinary people, citizens, and leaders, of our sincerity in the struggle for climate justice. Our response to this will change the course of history, for better or for worse.
Magid Magid is the Green Party MEP for Yorkshire & The Humber