Bolsonaro and Trump. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Bolsonaro and Trump. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest is no accident, it is the product of Bolsonaro’s neoliberal policies, argues Nathan Street

It’s summertime so it must be forest fire time. Often, there can be a grim acceptance when a few summer forest fires are seen as ‘natural’, i.e. when the particular sparking trigger is unknown or at least is not deliberate human cause and there is at least public intent if not action to extinguish them. This is more the variety of forest fires ongoing in IndonesiaAlaska or Siberia, severe though they are, they can regrettably represent a ‘new (and ever-increasing) normal’ with little media attention.

But the scale, intents, underlying politics and imagery of those in Brazil in the Amazon are the more sinister. Fires in the Amazon are of course, not without precedent – but are up 84% from 2018 levels to this point with 72,000 fires and counting. The ecological warnings are plentiful about the essential mechanism the Amazon plays in countering climate change globally, and what happens if an irreversible feedback loop is triggered. Deep Ecologists will no doubt despair to see the Amazon ever-shrinking and burning down in such a widespread scale, but the science supports the emotive response. The wrong Amazon is burning down, as goes the joke.

Under the disastrous far right presidency of Jair Bolsonaro – a known climate denialist – the fires are being treated as an opportunity for further deforestation, rather than actively being fought in all instances. Ranchers and miners have been burning down reservations and killing indigenous people. Bolsanaro meanwhile has somehow managed to blame the NGOs for the fires and got the Head of Brazils National Space Research Institute Ricardo Galvao sacked as a result of a critical report into deforestation levels.

According to sources such as The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam), Global Forest Watch Fires and The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), the recent increase in the number of fires in the Amazon is directly related to deliberate deforestation. Even before this August’s fires and the ensuing deforestation that results from it, overall levels of deforestation in Brazil from fires or otherwise have been 278% higher in July 2019 than they were in July 2018, according to Inpe.

Whilst the levels of publicity of the fires is not quite in proportion to their severity, there is nevertheless widespread dismay and outrage. The optics of what Bolsanaro is doing is so jarring that even some member states of the EU are threatening to oppose making a block free trade deal, with the finally negotiated but as-of-yet unratified Mercosur (Southern Common Market) treaty. Recent academic evidence suggests that the environmental components of the Mercosur are weak.

A more cynical reading would note the EU’s potential causal influence in the matter. Namely, that part of that free trade pact between the 2 continental blocks includes increased EU access to Brazilian beef. That increased demand is part of the motivation behind Brazil’s acceptance at their rainforest’s burning– using it as an opportunity to install cattle ranches. This is something France’s former environment minister Nicolas Hulot for one was regrettably prescient in predicting. The whole discussion of supranational trade-deals being ushered in or not, lacks democratic accountability in the first instance.

Nevertheless, the Labour party is correct to implore the Conservative government to take a tougher stand against Bolsanaro with Barry Gardiner commenting “Any post-Brexit trade deal with Brazil must guarantee that the UK is not further contributing to the destruction of the Amazon. We cannot risk our planet to buy cheap beef.” It is known that in terms of carbon emissions, land and water usage, beef is drastically more damaging than other alternative food sources and meats.

It’s been publicised that over this weekend the, G7 nations have been discussing what to do about the fires in the Amazon, but the seriousness of their commitment will be exposed if actions do not follow from any words. If the UK has sincerity to their declaration that we are experiencing a climate emergency, this can be a true acid test. They need to insist on sending in fire service people to help tackle the fires. If that is rejected by the Bolsonaro government, sanctions should be carefully targeted and imposed.

With Bolsanaro completely lacking in legitimacy as president, in light of the coup against Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the jailing of Lula, the former President who would have been his 2018 electoral presidential opposition. These activities are well outlined in the Intercept’s Secret Brazil Archive. Efforts need to be made to support on the ground left wing movements in Brazil to bring about democratic change. The policy disasters of his regime extend far beyond environmental activity, for instance in his dismantling of Brazil’s education system. Support in the UK for campaigns such as Brazil Solidarity Movement can help play a positive step.

In his excellent opinion piece, Asad Rehman observes

“For the indigenous peoples of Brazil the choice shouldn’t be between the reactionary and violent agribusiness lobby supported by the fascist regime of Bolsonaro or the global neoliberal elite represented by Macron, who both represent an equally devastating threat to the Amazon and its communities… The G7 leaders aren’t innocent bystanders in the destruction of the Amazon. It’s their neoliberal policies that have fuelled the destruction of the Amazon.”

Climate change is being driven by capitalism at its core, and elites across the globe are complicit in wanting the impossible – the profits without the environmental costs. Their actions are at the expense of the vast majority who are suffering drastically from its effects, not least the indigenous communities in Brazil.  If we are to stop climate change we need to fight for democratic control of our societies, to link it with the wider struggle against both neoliberalism and right-wing authoritarians.