For anyone who reads this blog regularly and read my initial article in the run up to his election, you will have seen that this is not the sort of leader that impresses me or many people around the world. He is regularly referred to as the ‘tropical Trump’, and this is generally not a label given as a compliment.
However the fallout from last week’s news has been substantial and he has thrown out many different things in an attempt to distract the news from what he did.
It is entirely true that the increase in forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon is largely down to changes in the way that they look after the forest and cut areas down, changes made as a result of Bolsonaro’s election. Some of the misdirection he’s brought out was meant to suggest that this is not the case but it does not stand up to any sensible analysis.
He has been in politics for three decades, though due to his strange views he has never really been a mainstream politician. One of his more extreme stances is complete climate change denialism: an issue that nowadays is of serious concern, as he now commands a country that contains rainforest that soaks up 20% of the world’s CO2 each year. Should he succeed, during his term in office he could turn this significant carbon sink into a carbon source and this would be a serious problem to the world.
As such while he shouts and screams about Colonial interruptions into his country (odd in itself giving his known ancestry from colonial settlers), it is entirely the rest of the world’s business what he does to the rainforests of the Amazon.
Unfortunately Bolsonaro, like Trump, hates scientists, and when told even by members of his own administration of the damage he’s causing his response is to attack. One example is that when news of the number of fires since he came to power was announced he fired the person from that organisation.
It is also clear that he has no wish to look after the rainforest, having originally attack the messenger rather than trying to deal with the fires (those since the national and international complaints about his actions have led him to send in the army to help bring the fires under control). The G7 also offered 20 million dollars to help in the effort, this was rejected by senior officials in the Brazilian environment agency who suggested that it should be spent reforesting parts of Europe.
Bolsonaro follows a similar mould to Trump: attacking, disputing and redirecting any complaints. A former Brazilian Minister stated back in April that he is the most detested leader in the world. What is also true is that the similarities between him and Trump run deeper than one would notice, both came to power on the back of a grass roots movement, that both are from rich backgrounds and while promising to improve the working class life, most or all their policies have helped the rich to increase their wealth at the expense of the country and the poor.
The outpouring of global concerned about the fire had such potency that Bolsorano felt the need to help contain the problem and profess his profound love for the region, at the same time as reducing the barriers that would put in place to stop businesses destroying it. However this is not stopping him from claiming that any news of forest fires is fake news in the same way that Trump has done for the last 3 years.
As is seen in other parts of the world as a rainforest becomes more fragmented and smaller, it becomes less capable of producing its own rain which leads to it drying out. As this happens it becomes far more likely that forest fires will happen and when they do will become large and difficult to contain.
It is generally thought worldwide that the only way to force Bolsonaro to take his responsibility for guardianship of the Amazon Rainforest seriously there must be an economic loss if he does not. As someone living in England I am deeply disappointed by Boris Johnson’s determination to not speak badly of anything that the Brazilian government is doing so as to not jeopardize a trade deal.
France and other European Nations however has stated that the huge trade deal between the EU and South American countries are contingent on the Amazon Rainforest being protected, and I feel ashamed that our Prime Minister is so firmly concentrating on Brexit and the impacts it will have have that is not worrying about the loss of the biggest rainforest in the world. Being an island state it is also extremely short-sighted, as if Bolsonaro policies are carried to conclusion there will be a significant increase in carbon emissions, bringing far closer to the Arctic and Antarctic Tipping Point- which could potentially transform the UK from an island to a large number of small islands, and have an economical impact that would be unparalleled in the UK in the last millennia. It should be noted that Brazil is one of the countries that will be most hard hit by climate change and that therefore this is tantamount to suicide, it is possible that it will be profitable for a small minority in the country in the short run but in the long run it will not benefit the economy.
Whether anything can be done to redirect this foolish policies in the next few years before Bolsonaro has to face the election again remains to be seen, but it would appear that without crippling financial penalties Bolsonaro has no intention of doing what is sensible, or listening to anyone, branding them all as Colonial forces (rich coming from someone where 7 of his 8 great grandparents were Italian or German).
It should be noted that forest fires occur in all rainforest from time to time and are far more common during periods of unusual dry weather. This is particularly the case where there have been bouts of deforestation as this unbalances the environment. Case in point is the Borneo and Sumatra rainforest which are well known for fires that can burn for weeks underground. Unfortunately the fires that are burning in the Amazon are outnumbered by the known fires in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. These are both countries which have experienced unsustainable levels of deforestation, as in the Amazon though Africa’s deforestation is it a far more sustainable level than in Brazil.