Burning times

Laura White
Laura White

30 years ago, when I was in primary school, I wrote a poem that was chosen to be published in a children’s poetry book about the natural world.

I can’t remember it now, but I do remember it was about the Amazon rainforest and how I couldn’t understand why grown-ups couldn’t see the damage that was being done by cutting down the trees.

Massive deforestation started in the Amazon in the late 1960s, which means it had been happening for over 10 years by the time I was born. The world has already lost a staggering 1 billion hectares of this rainforest. Every year land the size of England and Wales is cleared for palm oil and rubber production, cattle grazing and encroaching populations of humans.

In 2005, things started looking up. Brazil felt the pressure of environmental groups and reduced its burning and felling rates, tightened up its forest security and created protected areas.

The protection of the ‘lungs of the world’ is so important because the Amazon  stores around 120 billion tons of carbon, and about half of all the annual rainfall, trillions of tons of water, is released by the forest back into the atmosphere. This affects rainfall in hundreds of miles radius.

In 2015 the Paris Climate Summit saw all countries promise to reduce emissions and keep the global temperature rise to below 2%. To do this, they agreed, the rainforests had to be protected. It appears that one rather important person doesn’t agree with this.

Brazil’s Conservative President Jair Bolsonaro has made no secret about the fact he thinks the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) is a barrier to economic growth and now, as the lungs of the world burn, it has been discovered that this man has allowed things to start landsliding back to where they were before the agreement.In his campaign he pledged to reduce environmental protection and increase agriculture within the Amazon.  Since he took office on 1st January, funding for prevention and control of forest fires has reduced by 23%, with Ibama’s funding cut by 25%.

Ibama Forest Police, an elite highly trained force, has been shelved and these ‘warriors’ have been given desk jobs. Field agents have new rules which mean they can no longer destroy or remove machinery found at illegal logging sites. The charging and fining of environmental criminals has fallen by 43% in just a year. In an online article by Reuters, it states “Through July, destruction of Brazil’s rainforest is up 67% compared to the same period a year ago, according to preliminary data released by the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Nearly 80,000 fires have been recorded this year through Aug. 24, the highest level since at least 2013, INPE says. Environmentalists say Brazilian ranchers and farmers are intentionally igniting the jungle canopy to expand their operations illegally, emboldened by Bolsonaro’s pro-development, anti-regulation message.

Reuters was unable to confirm this claim.“Beyond inciting, he (Bolsonaro) has systematically dismantled all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” said Alfredo Sirkis, executive director of the Brazil Climate Center and co-founder of the country’s Green Party.’
This from a man who when challenged on his action on the fires said; “We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.”

And while the fires rage, people lose their homes and their lives and the world mourns the loss of some of the most important biodiversity on the planet, Bolsonaro plays childish games with accepting emergency aid funds, saying he’d only accept it if French President Macron withdrew ‘insults’. Please, somebody, take this man by the ear and send him to his room.

Extinction Rebellion will be marching for the planet on Saturday 14th September, meeting at 10.30am in Southernhay, Exeter. There will also be a Global Strike for Climate held at Bedford Square, Exeter on Friday 20th September. Meet outside H&M at 11am. Everyone is welcome.

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