President Bolsonaro of Brazil campaigned on a promise to roll back indigenous rights and protections for the Amazon. He ran on a promise to open up the Amazon rainforest for resource exploitation by the agribusiness sector. When he became president in January 2019, he gave control over the regulation of indigenous land reserves, via executive order, to the Ministry of Agriculture which is heavily financed by powerful agribusiness lobbyists.
After this executive order was signed, destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil hit record high levels — and now the Amazon is being slashed and burned to accommodate this ever-increasing number of large-scale agricultural and industrial projects. This farming technique (actually called ‘slashing and burning’) is commonly used around the world to clear areas and create agricultural land, but its use in the Amazon — a place almost unique in its importance to the continued health of the Earth — cannot continue.
The Amazon helps slow down global warming by absorbing more greenhouse gases than any other tropical forest. It accounts for ten percent of the globe’s biomass and is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. It also produces one-fifth of the world’s oxygen — so the uptake in deforestation, caused by these high numbers of manmade fires, has a real-world impact on the future of our planet and how we fight climate change.
Indigenous leaders warned the world about the cultural and environmental destruction this devastation was perpetuating — so it’s time we listen. Indigenous cultures around the world are often at the forefront of environmental and conservational knowledge and are the first ones to bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change.
Slash and burn farming, as mentioned above, is used in the Amazon because the soil is actually low in nutrient content. Decaying organic material that would normally breakdown and deposit nutrients into the soil doesn’t get an opportunity to do so because organisms within the Amazonian ecosystem are so efficient at reclaiming these nutrients, and locking them into its vegetation, that it doesn’t reach the soil. In order to be able to grow crops or produce pasture for beef cattle, the vegetation is burned to release its nutrients into the soil through the layer of ash left behind. However, a lot of the nutrients contained within the vegetation vaporizes when burned, making continued growth of crops unsustainable and thus requiring more and more swathes of the rainforest to be burned. Not to mention that deforestation releases dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
… when trees are felled, they release into the atmosphere all the carbon they’ve been storing. What the deforesters do with the felled trees—either leaving them to rot on the forest floor or burning them—creates further emissions. All told, deforestation on its own causes about 10 percent of worldwide emissions. | Rainforest Alliance
Farming/large-scale agricultural industry is needed to meet the needs of an increasing global population, and with Brazil being the world’s largest exporter of beef — requiring the creation of more and more vast areas for pasture — the desire to stop using the Amazon for this purpose is unlikely to happen anytime soon. So what are the alternatives? Sure, we could all eat less beef and use fewer crops that are grown via deforested agriculture, but 2019 has seen the biggest increase in rates of deforestation since 2013. Is there something else that could be implemented that would stop this dangerous slide into climate catastrophe?
In 2004, the Brazilian government, under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, implemented policies that reduced deforestation by over 70%. It started to rise again in 2012 when then-president, Dilma Rousseff — backed by agribusiness lobbyists — signed into law an overhaul of the Forest Code that, while safeguarding some environmental laws, it relaxed conservation rules that protected against deforestation. This isn’t the only reason that deforestation has been steadily increasing since then, but if those in power continually pursue commercial use of the Amazon, we will soon reach a point from which we will no longer be able to recover.
The Zero Deforestation Working Group (ZDWG), back in 2017, came up with a proposal that illustrates workable strategies that could eliminate the need for further deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. But, like any potential, major policy shifts, you need the backing of the people in power and the government — and reduce or remove big agribusiness lobbyist powers that influence presidents. I don’t know if what the ZDWG has researched would be 100% viable or even partly-operational, but it does show (along with Brazil’s previous success) that we have the potential knowledge, understanding and capability to do something. And we must do something. And we must do it soon.
Further Reading & How To Help:
For a range of resources and information and ways to help protect rainforests and fight climate change, visit Rainforest Alliance
A non-profit called Amazon Frontlines works with indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon and has a donation page, as well as informative general information, to help save the Brazilian Amazon.
Imazon is a non-profit research institution that studies sustainable Amazon development that provides great programs, information and an option to donate to help their work.
Rainforest Network helps protect forests and fights for climate change action and human rights through strategic, frontline campaigns that challenge systematic, corporate power.
If a resident of the USA, you can contact the U.S. Department of State to raise the issue of the fires and ask for action to be taken.