Wildfire. Photo: Pixabay Wildfire. Photo: Pixabay

Chrissy Brand joined the demonstrators outside the Brazilian Embassy in London on August 23rd. She is one of millions who realise that climate change can only be held at bay by a fundamental system change

Amidst the drummers and a sit-down protest in London, a number of speakers gave impassioned pleas for an end to the genocidal and ecocidal polices being implemented by Brazil’s extremist right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro. Native Brazilians, including Amazonians, gave passionate speeches, as did the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the Green Party’s Amelia Womack: “We are dying. We are living on borrowed time. We need to live and work together.”

Protest outide the Brazil Embassy. Photo: Chrissy Brand

Protests have erupted across Brazil. Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environment minister, stated that “Bolsonaro won the election with his anti-environment, anti-human rights and anti-indigenous discourse and on taking office he has transformed these words into deeds,” 

In London, Berlin, Madrid and other cities around the world, people took to the streets. The London protest was led by Extinction Rebellion where it was inspiring to see the majority of protestors were energised and angry young people, who will carry this fight for as long as it takes. It is vital to build this movement alongside all the others on the left, to provide a real alternative to the gung-ho slide into oblivion that we otherwise face under extremist right-wing parties led by the likes of Bolsonaro, Trump and Johnson. 

Bolsonaro, under pressure from millions of activists worldwide and the threat of financial sanctions, belatedly vowed to put out the fires he started. The damage is done, and his agenda has not changed, so don’t be fooled by his empty rhetoric.

Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest is being burned down like never before, under the encouragement and facilitation of Bolsonaro. The launch of this ecocide campaign was predicted by many of us well before he took power. However, the opening up of yet more rainforest land, being burned by farmers and agribusiness with government support was ignored by the world’s mainstream media for the best part of a month, before it finally became deemed a newsworthy story in the past week or so.

When Notre Dame in Paris burned in 2018, the demise of a historic symbol of western conservatism and religion was reported live, instantly and non-stop for days by the world’s media. Billionaires and other over-privileged individuals and organisations stepped in to fundraise to renovate the medieval church.

Yet the constant attacks on indigenous Amazonian people and the land all around them was not considered to be as vital a story, going unreported by the mainstream media for far too long. The irony, of course, is that in this current climate crisis, caused by capitalism, the Amazon is needed more than ever before.

It is commonly referred to as the world’s lungs. And yet, rather than protect it, irreparable damage is being caused, which will have a huge impact on the climate emergency and the fate of the planet.

The sane side of the world, that is to say the socialists, the environmentalists, the campaign groups such as Survival and Amazon Watch, and activists threw up our collective hands up in disgust and horror.

Protest outide the Brazil Embassy. Photo: Chrissy Brand

Even the non-politicised can see the link between this ecocidal lunacy and the fate of life on earth. Global protests took place and continue to do so, building a movement that will push back against the neoliberal policies that have caused the disasters in the Amazon – for almost fifty years now, and elsewhere around the world.

Not long after the drifting smoke from the fires turned Brazil’s Sao Paulo into daytime darkness, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Brasilia onAugust 21st (the third anti-government protest there in two days). This was the March of the Margaridas, named after trade union leader Margarida Maria Alves, who was murdered in 1983 under a previous Brazilian military dictatorship. The protests were about the desecration in the Amazon but also fighting cuts to education funding. It was the latest in a long line of protests by the Brazilian people since Bolsonaro’s presidency began.

Forest fires are commonplace, but this is about the grab of land for short term profit. Planting trees, such as the 350 million planted in Ethiopia last month, and adopting a more vegan-based diet, are important and part of a solution to combat climate change. But, without system change, nothing meaningful is actually going to work on the scale that is required.

There have been endless summits of world leaders since 1990, a talking shop that, at best, sometimes agrees that global warming is occurring and that something should be done. Of course, these powers-that-be operate in self-interest and for the rest of the equally corrupt, multi-millionaire business class.

Not much has changed in the Amazon rainforest since I wrote a paper thirty years ago on The Role and Impact of Transnational Corporations in Brazilian Amazonia:

“The underlying motives of all transnational corporations in the region is similar: to extract the largest profits for the cheapest outlay. So problems of exploitative labour, of failing to respect the tradition and culture of Indian groups and a careless and wanton destruction of the forest, are blindly swept aside in pursuit of the goal…”

“The Brazilian government needs to adopt radical policies which will protect the tropical rainforests, whilst simultaneously nurturing an understanding of the ecological significance of the area amongst the population, particularly those who work for individuals or companies involved.”

“The murder of Chico Mendes (1988), head of the Amazonian rubber tappers’ union, has once again highlighted conflict in the region. Mendes’ campaigning against the ravages of capitalism and for the rights of workers has led his supporters to suspect the rightwing landowners’ organisation, The Rural Democratic Union (UDR) of his death. The feeling amongst the UDR is that the Amazon belongs to the landowners, who have the right to clear it.”

Reforms and empty promises under the neoliberal system are never going to be effective enough. Only people power can change the world.