The lungs of the Earth. Home to indigenous people and more biodiversity than any other tropical forest on the planet is on fire. Yes, the Amazon, the mightiest of the rainforests is being vandalised by a reckless President.
Forests have fires, and the biggest forest in the world is bound to have a few, but these are not natural.
Nor are they primarily the result of climate change, although it is a cause. The Amazon stores hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. If the whole thing goes up, we are toast.
Why is this happening, and can we do anything to stop it happening?
Global commodity markets run by big traders want more and cheaper animal feed and meat and Brazil is stepping up to meet the additional demand. Hence Bolsanaro’s war on the Amazon and the indigenous people of Brazil.
The fires are not an accident. On August 10 and 11, Brazilian farmers held a ‘day of fires’ where they met to start forest fires, both to clear land and (according to media reports) smoke signal their allegiance to President Bolsonaro and his plans to open up the Amazon for development.
Bolsonaro frames conservation efforts and the rights of indigenous people as an enemy to be defeated. But the idea of turning the most abundant, flourishing ecosystem we have ever encountered into a dusty monoculture is horrifying.
The knock-on effects will devastate ecosystems and people’s livelihoods the world over. Each year’s fires reduce the rainforest’s ability to control its own microclimate and protect itself. It also makes the next years fires bigger and more numerous.
This downward spiral can be arrested. The world’s attention is on the Amazon. It won’t last long.
Before the news cycle moves on, we need to make use of this moment. There are three things we can do – right now – to help.
First, we can change our diet. Deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere is driven by the global demand for meat and animal feed. We can help protect the Amazon and the climate by eating much less of it.
Second, we can call out the big brands that buy soya and meat from Brazil. A handful of leather companies are already withdrawing business from Brazil. Now food companies need to act: Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, we’re looking at you.
Third, we can demand the UK government gets involved. There are trade talks happening between the Bolsanaro government and the UK. The UK needs to press pause on those talks until the Amazon is protected.
Our Prime Minister may be feeling some pressure to get trade deals signed. It’s up to us to make sure that, in the case of Brazil, he feels some pressure in the opposite direction.