Bolsonaro’s Brazilian Amazon fires update

This 27 August 2019 video says about itself:

In the Brazilian state of Rondonia, firefighters struggled to contain a fast-spreading fire near a national forest reserve on Monday.

The wildfire is one of thousands of blazes that have engulfed the Amazon, known as the ‘‘lungs of the planet’‘.

Locals want more action.

“We have to preserve the correct amount (of forest). The government has to help the small farmers, prioritise the (forest) reserves, take care of the reserves, because people do more illegal things in the big reserves …”, said 30-year old farmer, Willian Sabara Dos Santos.

On Monday, the Group of 7 nations pledged tens of millions of dollars

18 million euros

to help fight raging wildfires in the Amazon and protect the rainforest.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is questioning the motive behind the donations.

His environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has welcomed the support. …

It is not clear how the new funds would be administered.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 27 August 2019:

Many Brazilians are ashamed of their president, who behaves like a screaming toddler on Twitter and Facebook. The majority of Brazilians abhor the destruction of the Amazon. But also among opponents of Bolsonaro there is irritation about [French President] Macron‘s involvement. Europe itself does very little to tackle climate change, and European corporations play a major role in deforestation and pollution, including in the Amazon. The 18 million euros is a useless pittance in that light, and nobody is waiting for neo-colonial arrogance.

In themselves, Macron’s criticisms of the environmentally destructive far-right Bolsonaro are correct and well deserved.

However, in French Guiana, the French colony bordering on Brazil, Macron wants to start environmentally destructive gold mining next door to an irreplaceable national park.

He wants to allow killing curlews, black-tailed godwits and other birds.

Macron’s Environment Minister resigned in despair, as the rest of the Macron administration always prefers corporate profits to pro-environment policies

It is basically a pot calling the kettle black conflict between the French and Brazilian presidents.

By Miguel Andrade:

Amazon wildfires expose fallacy of “green” capitalist politics

28 August 2019

While much of the world has been gripped by the accelerating surge of deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon rainforest and its implications for the global environment, the Brazilian and international ruling classes have sought to exploit the fires to gain advantage in the geopolitical and trade disputes that divide them.

The wildfires in both the Amazon—covering roughly a third of South America and stretching across all of its countries except for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay—and in the contiguous Pantanal wetland ecosystem in Paraguay and Bolívia surged in August. Simultaneous states of emergency and alerts were declared across several regions in both Peru and Brazil, while ashes descended over large areas of southern Brazil. Combined with a cold front coming from the south, the ashes blotted out the sun in the southeast of the country.

The August fires are the culmination of a protracted attack on Brazilian environmental and labor regulations. This process accelerated after the world economic crisis hit Brazil’s economy with full force from 2013 on, causing landowners to employ more destructive methods in order to lower production and labor costs, particularly by clearing new swaths of land at the edge of the rainforest or along the roads and waterways that run through it.

Deforestation was up by no less than 278 percent in July over the same period in 2018, while wildfires in the country were up 84 percent over last year. May through September is the dry season throughout the center of South America, and is also the time for seasonal agricultural burn-offs for both peasants and plantations.

Amazon deforestation, however, is not merely an incremental phenomenon: having lost 17 percent of its original extension, the forest is predicted to collapse if this loss reaches 25 percent, at which point irreversible damage would result in its desertification and transformation into a savannah. The Amazon forest is a huge carbon dioxide sink, with experts estimating that its biomass holds the equivalent of a hundred years of current levels of US carbon emissions.

With the desertification of the forest, most of these emissions would be released into the atmosphere, making even more difficult the already herculean task of reducing current emissions to contain global warming. Based on the average deforestation rate of recent years, experts estimated that such a collapse would come in 20 years, but the escalation of deforestation rates this year could bring such a point forward to within five years.

A prominent role in the increased fires is certainly played by global warming, which is lengthening the dry season. Its most immediate trigger, however, has been the concerted campaign by both Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and Amazonian state governors in pushing through deregulation and turning a blind eye to the destruction of the forest.

Bolsonaro has staffed his cabinet with climate change deniers who consider climate science a “Marxist conspiracy” and have repeatedly attacked governmental agencies charged with defense of the environment. In early August, this reached the point of firing the head of the country’s Space Research Institute (INPE) for making public, as required by Brazilian law, deforestation data. Bolsonaro claimed INPE was lying about deforestation and was publicly challenged by its head, Ricardo Galvão, who was then replaced by an Air Force colonel believed to be a Bolsonaro loyalist.

For their part, local governments have defunded the work of—and security for—rangers with the National Environmental and Renewable Resources Institute (IBAMA), exposing them to the violent retaliation of private mercenary armies working for big landowners, effectively blocking the enforcement of anti-deforestation laws.

The governor of Acre, Brazil’s westernmost state at the border with Bolivia, told supporters at a rally in late May not to pay environmental fines. Thumping his chest, he added that landowners who received fines should personally contact him. At the eastern edge of the forest, in the state of Pará, Governor Helder Barbalho enacted a law in early July vastly widening the conditions for the legalization of private ownership of public land.

Ostensibly directed at giving property rights to peasants who settled public lands after being displaced from other regions by either political or economic pressures, such laws have been used in Brazil for almost two centuries to fraudulently transfer property to big landowners. Barbalho has now scrapped the requirement that the claimant to the property actually settle it, requiring instead that merely the “intention” of settling it be presented. Estimates are that no less than 15 percent of the state’s territory will now be up for grabs.

Pará leads the growth in Amazon deforestation, and local newspapers reported on August 5 that owners of large farms on the edges of the BR-163 national road were organizing a “fire day” for August 10, reportedly to “show Bolsonaro they were willing to work” and felt “supported” by him.

The news of the accelerated destruction of the Amazon has provoked justifiable anger and revulsion in Brazil and around the world under conditions of increasing hostility to the inaction of world governments over global warming. Large demonstrations have been held in major Brazilian cities as well as across Europe and internationally.

Popular anger has been intensified by Bolsonaro’s scapegoating of the oppressed indigenous populations for the social problems plaguing the region, under conditions in which there are regular reports of environmental activists and peasant leaders being murdered by the private mercenary armies now torching the forest.

However, the debate over the Amazon situation has also exposed the grave dangers for workers and youth around the world stemming from the attempt to corral the fight against global warming behind a renewed push for a “green” rehabilitation of capitalism.

For months, the Bolsonaro administration had been sparring with the governments of Germany and Norway, which were major donors for the so-called “Amazon Fund” set up under the government of Workers Party (PT) president Lula da Silva in 2008. The Fund was created to help in reducing deforestation and fires, but in May, Bolsonaro disbanded its board of oversight by decree, partly in retaliation against the NGOs that constituted part of it. Both countries then announced the suspension of funding.

In response to criticism from the Norwegian and German governments, Brazilian officials declared that neither country had any right to criticize Brazil. They cited Norway’s planned oil drilling in the Arctic, saying it was “hypocritical” to sponsor such a project while seeking to block oil drilling at the mouth of the Amazon River.

The saber-rattling escalated after Foreign Policy published an article conjecturing that doctrines such as “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) could be evoked in the near future by major world powers to take control of the Amazon. It added that Brazil was “fragile enough” to bow to pressures, with its control of the rainforest due solely to “purely historical reasons.”

Finally, on August 22 a tweet by French President Emmanuel Macron, declaring he would propose an “international discussion” on the Amazon at the G-7 meeting over the weekend, provoked a furious reaction from the Bolsonaro government. One of his intelligence advisers, retired Army Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas went so far as to quote Ho Chi Minh and cite the devastation of French Pacific colonies by nuclear tests in order to question France’s “moral authority.” …

This quoting by the far-right hysterically anti-socialist Bolsonaro government of Vietnamese anti-colonialist communist Ho Chi Minh is as hypocritical and ridiculous as Macron posing as an ‘environmentalist’.

Bolsonaro is a buddy of the biggest neo-colonialist government in the world, in the White House in Washington, of Donald Trump and his warmongering adviser John Bolton.

Bolsonaro has many friends elsewhere in the neo-colonial capitalist establishment, eg, in Canada and in NATO.

Bolsonaro was chosen by the World Economic Forum billionaires’ meeting in Davos, Switzerland to do the keynote speech on Margaret Thatcher-style neo-colonial capitalist economics.

On Monday night, the Brazilian government doubled down on the rhetoric, refusing to accept the paltry $20 million offered by the G7 countries to help fight the fires. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasilia that he would take the money only if Macron withdrew “the insults he made against me.”

Update: Bolsonaro has now said that he will accept the money, but only if he will decide on spending it.

Macron’s main worry is not the destruction of the Amazon, but rather making his own nationalist appeal to French farmers opposed to the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement that is being voted upon by the parliaments of both bloc’s countries. The French president threatened to veto the deal unless Brazil takes more decisive action to protect the Amazon.

In the long term, imperialist powers have definite strategic interests in relation to the Amazon, which contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water as well as some of the world’s largest rare earths reserves and is the site of a veritable “gold rush” for intellectual property over compounds that may be extracted from the rainforest’s 3 million species.

With its [automobile] industry standing to benefit from the free trade pact, Germany expressed reservations over Macron’s rhetoric, while other EU countries highly dependent on agriculture, such as Ireland, vocally sided with Macron. Most of the EU governments, however, declined to take an aggressive tone, fearing the agreement could be put in danger, together with the profits expected from the general lowering of wages that will follow the imposition of savage competition imposed upon the workers of both continents with the approval of the deal. …

The assumption that an intervention over the Amazon by major imperialist powers is to be naively accepted as legitimate plays directly into the hands of Bolsonaro and Villas Bôas, with their “anti-imperialist” posturing and newly-discovered quotes from Ho Chi Minh. …

As for the indigenous populations, growing migration to urban centers has caused crops to collapse and hypertension, diabetes and obesity to surge.

A progressive answer to the immense dangers caused by the burning of the Amazon rainforest is impossible under a system founded upon brutal exploitation and massive social inequality defended by Bolsonaro and Macron alike. It can come only out of the struggle of the working class for the overthrow of capitalism and the abolition of the profit system.

USA: ADMINISTRATION DIDN’T AGREE TO AMAZON AID The Trump administration did not agree to a $20 million aid package proposed at G-7 to help Brazil fight the fires in the Amazon rainforest. The White House National Security Council said that the U.S. didn’t commit because of a lack of coordination with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. [HuffPost]

GLOBAL ECONOMY COMPLICIT IN AMAZON’S DESTRUCTION Name any fast-food restaurant, personal care product or home good you have bought recently, and chances are it contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon. Now name a big bank ― any big bank, really. More than likely it has helped finance that destruction. [HuffPost]

The loss of forest cover in the Amazon has a significant impact on the local climate in Brazil, according to a new study: here.

DEFORESTATION CRISIS: GROUND ZERO Nearly a decade ago, the Brazillian municipality of Altamira sat at the center of another major environmental dispute, over the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Amazon River. The dam led to a boom in construction, but indigenous tribes and scientists warned that Altamira would one day become ground zero in an Amazonian crisis. [HuffPost]

The world’s tropical forests store huge quantities of carbon in their biomass and thus constitute an important carbon sink. However, current estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide stored in tropical forests of the Amazon vary largely. Scientists at the UFZ have developed an approach that uses recent satellite data to provide much more precise estimates of the amount of biomass in tropical forests than in the past. This makes it possible to obtain a more exact picture of the consequences of droughts and forest fires for the Amazon: here.

18 thoughts on “Bolsonaro’s Brazilian Amazon fires update

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