Image via Sarkaritel
The enduring image of Rome’s Emperor Nero is of him playing the violin as his city burned around him. It’s a legend, and probably not true. But metaphors aside, future generations will say the same of Brazil’s current President, Jair Bolsonaro, and his handling of the Amazon forest fires of 2019.
He handled it… by not handling it.
Bolsonaro is a staunch climate change non-believer. In his regime, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, effected a 25% cut in government funding for the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the administrative arm his ministry. The Institute works to safeguard the Amazon from loggers, farming, agricultural animal grazing and anything that could threaten the forest and its ecosystem. It upholds laws against deforestation if the government fails to enforce them.
Among the cuts, there was one that stood out: funding for prevention and control of forest fires was reduced 23%.
Bolsonaro has never hidden his disdain for Ibama, or for the ‘greenies’, as he calls environmental activists. His attitude emboldened the illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon. According to Reuters, new leadership at Ibama made it more difficult to crack down on the illegal logging, farming and mining that have ruined nearly 12,000 square kilometres (4,633 sq. miles) in the Amazon this year.
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.
When the forest fires broke out, Bolsonaro’s reactions went something like: deny, downplay, shift blame, and bizarrely, refuse aid. That’s right: he turned down an aid package of $20 million from the G7 nations because Brazil had not been included in the decision-making process.
Look, it’s right, especially as a former colony, to be wary of outsider aid. But when your forests are literally burning, to reject an aid package is sheer lunacy. Or it would be, if Jair Bolsonaro had not spent his first year in office systematically rolling back protections for the Amazon, slashing fines for environmental criminals, obliterating climate change funding- basically doing everything to ensure that his time as Brazil’s President will be remembered for its emphasis on Industry and Development and not, you know, safeguarding the environment for future generations.
But Wait, It Gets Worse…
Around the same time, on August 30, oil stains were discovered on beaches in the north-eastern Brazilian state of Paraíba. Over the next few weeks, 4000 tons of crude oil, propelled by currents, spread, extending over an area of over 1500 miles across nine coastal states.
It’s being hailed as one of country’s worst environmental disasters. What worsened the effects was the lethargy of the government. Ricardo Salles’ first visit to the area came 40 days after the first stains were detected. He also attempted to shift the blame onto Venezuela, despite the investigation being still underway.
Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron got into a war of words over the former’s (mis)handling of the Amazon fires, which Macron criticised; Bolsonaro called his mentality ‘colonial’, and even escalated the issue by responding approvingly to a crass social media post comparing the two countries’ First Ladies.
Bolsonaro is as repugnant as Trump, but that isn’t the point. The point is that like Trump, he is throwing his entire weight behind a way of life that is actively reducing humanity’s chances of surviving on this planet.
India, as a signatory of the Paris Agreement and indeed, one of the countries that is leading the way in renewable energy generation, should not be seen as approving, in any way, shape or form, the policies or politics of a man who is so determined to enrich himself by gorging on the future of the human race.