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Lungs on Fire

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

by BEN RICHARDSON - With smoke visible from space for three weeks straight, the Amazon Rainforest collapsed before our eyes in a crematorial inferno. Someone let this happen.

Sixty percent of the Amazon Rainforest lies in Brazil. photo from THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Sep. 2019) - The scorched Amazon Rainforest has a harrowing story to tell as of late—a testament of survival amidst governmental corruption, corporate greed and criminal exploitation. Moving forward after August’s record total of hectares lost to the flames, the most pressing question other than how the global community takes responsibility is who is responsible in the first place. Although the international outcry elevated the issue to priority status, progress is lethargic amidst uncompromising politicians.

The most biologically diverse location in the world provides oxygen for one out of every five breaths we take. Now, one out of every five breaths is being taken away from us as a result of the actions--or lack thereof--of far right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Public government files released mid-August of 2018 stated that Bolsonaro has slashed his environmental ministry’s budget by an astonishing 40 percent. The disappointing, but logical, result? Deforestation rates skyrocketed more than 29 percent from the previous year.

President Bolsonaro’s rationale lays itself out in a three step continuum. Step one: implicitly give anyone, no matter intentions, the go-ahead to slash and burn significant swathes of old growth rainforest, particularly on vulnerable native lands. Step two: rake in profit on the short term, as the cleared land will bolster the logging and beef industries. Step three: Bolsonaro will, in theory, single-handedly take responsibility for digging Brazil out of the longest and deepest recession the country has seen to date (and Brazil gained independence from Portugal 197 years ago).

President Jair Bolsonaro invited Chinese officials to a diplomatic steakhouse dinner to promote China’s purchasing of Brazilian beef. China’s expanding middle class has allowed the country to become one of the top importers of Brazilian beef in recent years. photo from THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Cutting protected areas at a time when deforestation rates are increasing is the opposite of what Brazil needs,” Greenpeace Brazil campaigner Cristiane Mazzetti said.

The emboldened president said that he has plans in place to sweep environmental protections under the rug in a region of the forested coast south of Rio de Janeiro, the most popular city for international tourism. His goal is to create a “Cancún of Brazil.”

The Brazilian space research center, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), found that Brazil alone has sustained more than 74,000 wildfires so far this year, an 84 percent surge over the same period in 2018. The center, which began tracking wildfires in 2013, released data that affirmed that wildfires had become so numerous, the possibility of the fires being of natural origin was statistically impossible. Albeit the Amazon region experiences sporadic wildfires during the dry season from August to November, the INPE’s evidence stifles the claims many Brazilian-based meat and logging companies make about the wildfires occurring regardless of human activity.

The systemic corruption of the Brazilian meat and logging industries raises numerous red flags in international trade communities, most recently the G7 Summit in late August. French President Emmanual Macron openly criticized Bolsorano’s hypocrisy in joining a G20 pledge held in Osaka, Japan to fight global warming this past June. G7 nations offered $20 million in aid, but President Bolsonaro’s acceptance of the offer remains contingent on an apology from President Macron.

Indigenous Amazonian peoples gather for a counter-summit to demand reparations for the theft and defilement of their land. photo from THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

"Mr. Macron must withdraw the insults he made against me,” Bolsonaro said. “[He] cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?"

Against the backdrop of burning lungs, the Brazilian leader has yet to swallow his pride. Each minute, the equivalent of three football fields burns down in the Amazon basin according to the Real Time Deforestation Detection satellite system, yet Bolsonaro is blinded by dollar signs. Until the day comes when he puts planet over profit, the rest of the world will continue to hold its breath—out of anticipation and necessity.

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