Figure 1 Fires in South America [Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)]
Donald Trump’s American Government trade and tariff war with China is responsible for much of this year’s burnings in Brazil. Farmers in and around the Amazon Rainforest are rushing to plant more soybeans and raise more cattle to reap financial benefits from new China/Brazil trade. China has switched its demands for soybean and beef from the United States to Brazil and Brazilian farmers quickly shifted to increase produce to benefit from the new bonanza. In other words, burning farmlands to prepare for planting and expanding farmlands is expected to profit hugely from exports to China. Burning is specifically connected to making expanded fields and expected farm profits even as mining, logging of the jungle and producing more products are aimed at making more money too.
Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government has deliberately threatened the killing of indigenous peoples to expand development and to engage in extensive deforestation in the Amazon expanding agriculture (now 42% of the Brazilian economy), mining, logging and road building to create new towns and cities. Clearly the Brazilian government is hostile to the interests of indigenous peoples and the environment even to the point of threatening genocide as well as ecocide. But one must not ignore that the American government’s trade war with China is directly responsible for the radical increase in the number of fires and the extent of violence pointed at indigenous peoples and the environment. Bolsonaro and Trump are straightforwardly responsible for the violence in Brazil and now the remainder of South America.
Most of the world’s opinion writers, environmentalist, climate scientists and advocates for Indigenous peoples as well as Indigenous peoples themselves were shocked and alarmed to learn that the Brazilian rainforests were burning. Alarm bells were sounded about the “world’s lungs” being deprived of fresh air produced by the natural photosynthetic processes generating Earth’s fresh air. Deforestation—the destruction of Brazilian jungles by any means—radically increased according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in 2000-2010. The same agency noted sharp increases in the number of fires in Brazil in 2019, but did not clearly indicate and the press didn’t report where the fires were and whether they were intentionally ignited as part of the farming season or started as part of the August – October season of natural fires.
According to the INPE 53,364 fires were ignited in 2019 compared to 26,500 in the year before. As of Wednesday 4 September 94 fires were burning inside protected areas. So, if fewer than 100 fires are burning in protected areas including indigenous territories, where are these other fires and why are they being started?
It is reasonable to be alarmed that so many fires are burning in Brazil due to the excessive release of carbon into the atmosphere. It is even more alarming when it is reported that as it turns out thousands more fires are burning in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Fires burning in the rain forests or in open fields are a major problem due to deforestation and the release of carbon dioxide and other green house gases elevating CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the world’s atmosphere. Intentional burning dangerously challenges the diversity of ecosystems and indigenous nations in the western hemisphere and in South Asia and Africa. The Allied Indigenous Organizations working to Protect Peoples living in Isolation of with Initial Contact (PIACI in the Amazon basin and the Great Chaco sound their alarm that fires “aggravate their situation and put at risk their physical integrity.” And it is clear that these fourteen indigenous organizations are warily watching the fires, but they are not aware of reports of fire affecting “peoples living in isolation.” The on-the-ground views of indigenous peoples appear to match another report “We’re thinking about the Amazon fires all wrong…” written by Sergio Pecanha and Tim Wallace in a Washington Post article. The Pecanha-Wallace column with maps illustrates that there is a burst of fires in Brazil, but most of those fires are started by farmers clearing already deforested land to increase acreage to produce more soybeans and cattle for exports. The fires in Brazil are primarily along the periphery of the Amazon rainforest while a few fires are inside. The bulk of the fires are located in already cleared farm areas as is evident in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite image below. This does not mean the rainforest is not threatened or even being damaged by the currently burning fires, but at least it can be said that it is an exaggeration to claim that the Amazon Rainforest is being destroyed now. As suggested earlier, great damage was done to the rainforest between 2000 and 2010 by logging, mining and Brazilian government polices of development.
Again I note there are reported 94 fires in sensitive and protected areas, but clearly most of the fires are in deforested areas—areas largely deforested between 2000 and 2010. Miners, loggers, are serious threats and commit crimes against indigenous peoples much of the deforestation has already been completed to create the farming and development areas now being burned to prepare for new crops.
What is not reported explicitly is that the fires of Brazil and the other countries are dangerous due to the elevated carbon releases into the atmosphere resulting from expanded demand by China for soybeans and beef. The deforestation has been considerable but much of that was carried out before 2010. More is threatened even though at reduced levels. The story is that “making money” by the Americans and Brazilians through expanded trade of soybeans and beef to China pose even greater dangers with the potential collapse of biodiversity as a result of clearing the jungle for farming. The damage and the threat to indigenous peoples and to the environment are shocking and even criminal, but the cause is deeper: Burning for Profits.
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