Yesterday morning, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro rejected a $20 Million USD offer from G7 countries to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest. While $20 Million USD is a very small amount of money to come from all of the seven richest counties in the world (for scope, it is 1/10th of the budget of the film Boss Baby), it would have at least been a step towards putting out the fires currently ripping through one of the last really big rainforests we still have kicking around. Bolsonaro said no, citing Macron being a big meanie-face, and — GET THIS — concerns about “colonialism.” The Amazon is home to one million Indigenous people. There are reports that these Indigenous people are facing violence so that land can be cleared and burned.
The Amazon is an essential part of the earth’s carbon cycle and cooling system. The Amazon emits so much moisture that it cools down the entire planet. Right now, there are more fires burning in it than there ever have been in recorded history. These fires were mostly set intentionally by people emboldened by Bolsonaro’s anti-environmentalist promises to industrialize the Amazon, and at the expense of the right to breathe of like the whole world. A few days ago, Bolsonaro excused himself in advance for any failures to manage this crisis put the fire out on a lack of resources. A lot of this happened on Twitter, because of course it did.
If you get tired of watching the most powerful people on earth ego-match us into extinction, you can try navigating information on the internet. Environmentalist groups give you stats about importing and exporting, what to boycott and what not to, with almost exclusively US-based information. Capitalist profiteers scream “fake news.” People with the same basic goals squabble amongst themselves about tactics, the nitty-gritty specifics of terminology, and our own political passions. Meanwhile, the world burns on.
Look: the Amazon is in trouble. That much is legit true, even if it’s also true that whiplash freak-out effect of the whole situation is the result of some misleading journalism and frustrating truths about group psychology. There are a lot of articles that are saying things that are true: the Amazon is on fire, and that sucks, and is bad. There are lots of other articles saying things that are also true, which is that we need to be careful of the nuances of the way we present this information, because presenting misinformation is bad, even if it supports political ends we happen to agree with. While this is totally true and we at SC agree, there is a point at which we start to wonder if “ecosplaining” is a thing, and these articles called stuff like “Everything You Think You Know About The Amazon Is Wrong (and You’re a Big Dumb Idiot)” just start to sound like someone shouting “WELL, ACTUALLY…” over a conversation at a party. Even if he is right, who invited this guy? So rude. But then I remember that people focused on rudeness over facts got us into this mess in the first place! I look down, and see the beef in my hands, and the blood on them. Am I the problem? Darn!
Here are a bunch of things that are true at the same time:
- Forest fires are a part of how forests self-regulate, and controlled burns are an essential part of responsible forest stewardship. Do not let that fact delude you into thinking that this rate of burning is normal, or common. The current rates of forest fires, in the Amazon and worldwide, are above the average for the last, like, bunch and bunch of years. It’s not normal for the forest to burn like this. Do not let anyone tell you different. We’re starting to sound like the residents of Krypton who didn’t believe the planet was exploding.
- Current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January. Bolsonaro has compared environmentalism to religious extremism, and rode a big wave of economic anxiety to political victory, mostly by promising to open up the Amazon to further development in order to expediate Brazil’s climb out of an economic recession.
- A bunch of the fires in the Amazon were set intentionally to clear land for cattle and soy. The issue with the Amazon fires is not that they were set intentionally (intentional fires are, as mentioned above, sometimes necessary, even if they’re not nice to look at), but that they’re being set intentionally as a part of a mentioned plan to industrialize the Amazon. Our planet’s having kind of a hard time, if you haven’t noticed. It needs like a trillion more trees, not fewer.
- Bolsonaro only really got his butt in gear to lift even a finger to do anything about the Amazon fires when people started threatening Brazil’s struggling economy with boycotts and sanctions.
- Forest fires burn the world over: There are also fires in Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of Congo that need our attention just as much. The ARCTIC caught fire this year, guys. The arctic. Where ice comes from!
- It is true that there will be a time when controlled burns and forest fires can be a normal part of our global forests’ regulation system again. That time is not now.
There is nothing partisan about the fact that there are no jobs, no progress, no future, and no profits on a dead planet. The survival of the Amazon is much bigger than Brazil: this is about the struggle for the biggest air filtration system on the planet and the right for endangered cultures to be free from violence. This is also an opportunity to start the real, hard conversations about how we are abusing our forests the world over, from overproduction of beef in Brazil to replanting clearcuts with monocultures of crop trees on the West coast of Canada. For too long, we have measured progress by our ability to control and manipulate non-human life, forgetting that we rely on healthy trees and drinkable water and clean air just as much as a frog or a monkey or a fish. I like blue jeans and smart phones as much as the next millennial, and I am a product of the world that I was born into. A sustainable future will require a pretty radical overhaul of the way we all do life, which is of course frustrating and will probably happen in stages. We can’t forget that we, too, are wildlife. We do not dominate nature, and we don’t stand apart from it. We are nature. As the Amazon burns, we burn with it.
Don’t let Bolsonaro fool you by throwing around high-earning scrabble words like “colonialism” to justify his bad behaviour. And let this be a lesson: just because someone knows what words to use to manipulate your sense of morality, does not mean they’re doing it with any good will at all. It would be great if we could all just sit back and think about the problems we’ve got in our own homes, our own communities, our own countries, like Bolsonaro implores Macron to do — but we live in a globally connected world, and the evidence of the global impact of our choices is right there for us all to see. Bolsonaro is trying to leverage shame against the people trying to hold him accountable. Let’s not let him get away with it. Let’s call him on his bluff.
Put the fires out, now, and beyond that it’s time for responsible forest stewardship, now. Everywhere. Please. I hate this.
If you’re as concerned as we are about the situation in the Amazon, here are some concrete things you can do:
- If you’re in the Montreal area, you can join the folks at Extinction Rebellion for a peaceful demonstration outside the Brazilian consulate on Wednesday August 28th. Facebook Event
- For people outside of Montreal, consider joining a demonstration in your area. Voicing dissent in a public space sends a message, and is good for your head and heart.
- You can boycott Brazilian beef. The main companies who import from Brazil are JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva. Consider cutting back on meat, or source from a local farm.
- Cut back on soy consumption. Most of soy globally is used to feed livestock, so if you reduce animal consumption you cut back on most of this. Source your soy as carefully as you would source meat.
- Donate to initiatives like https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/plant-a-billion/
- Donate to initiatives that work towards conservation through the support of indigenous peoples, like Amazon Watch https://amazonwatch.org/ or Amazon Team https://www.amazonteam.org/
- Rainforest alliance has a list of other products you can boycott to reduce impact on the environment. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean
- If you’re involved in forestry, talk to your colleagues and bosses about concerns you have about how your industry is managed. Write a petition. Hold a meeting. Make a stink.
- Honour your grief and frustration. Scream into a pillow if you’re angry or sad. Make art and don’t worry about making it nice or happy–what’s the point of having an outlet if you can only say nice things? You don’t have to show it to anyone, but if you do, remember that art is worldmaking and we must be careful with the worlds we make. If you’re looking for free materials and you’re in the Montreal area, look out for the grand re-opening of the Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR, pronounced “sucker”), where you can get materials for free and divert waste out of landfills.
- Look around for people who have the same goals as you do, and remember that agreeing about everything isn’t a prerequisite to accomplishing things together. Identify a goal and work backwards. Make tasks. Delegate.
- Be with the earth. Lay in the grass. Feel the sun on you. Go for a walk and feel the way it supports you. Take a walk in a green place and remember that this, too, is a cathedral. Remember that you belong here. Remember that we all do.