‘The Lungs of Our World Are Burning’, a common phrase uttered by many in the recent media coverage of the Amazon fires, would have one believe that we inherited the Earth as it is and that the Amazon was our one great forest. Moreover, the revelatory statistic passed from tweet, Facebook status and news articles alike states that the Amazon accounts for 20% of the world’s oxygen supply turns out to be false. It is no doubt that the scale of deforestation occurring in the Amazon (And the Rest of the World) is a travesty, but spreading misinformation and a narrow point of view, will not change the reality of the situation.
Firstly, we must look at what we do know about the fires. The fires have been marked as the worst recorded in the Amazon since 2010. It is common for fires to burn during the dry season in Brazil, however, many believe (and with good reason) that many small farmers are setting other farms ablaze themselves in the knowledge there will be no crackdown. These rainforests do matter and Bolsanaro’s lack of environmental concern is striking. The rainforest serves as a huge carbon sink in which a lot of carbon produced by human activities can be absorbed. Furthermore, they are home to millions of plants and animals and around 80,000 indigenous peoples, who depend on the rainforest for food, medicine and clothing.
However, deforestation is not merely the agenda of a far-right government. Deforestation is a reality that spreads across the world and back in time. One doesn’t have too look very far to find the socialist leader Evo Morales of Bolivia also coming under pressure for his alleged role in deforestation, with policies for controlled deforestation allowed quadrupling. Furthermore, mass scale deforestation is an ever-present reality in Africa in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo where Chinese logger companies are given access to forests in return for investment in other sectors. In addition to this we must be aware that in 1600, half of the United States was covered in forests and Europe too has lost 75 percent of it’s forests.
We, in the so-called developed world must acknowledge that we too have profited deeply from the clearances of our forests and the extraction of our resources before we look to any country and attempt to condemn and shame them. Not only have we profited from doing this in our own lands, but also exists a legacy of colonialism which we (Yes, the Irish too) have solidified and built our privilege upon. Deforestation, unfortunately, is a great way for a developing economy to build jobs and to boost exports. Those of us who have the privilege of being able to scoff at these methods of development and call them disgraceful must begin to examine ourselves more closely.
There is no doubt that to some governments across the World, the net highest consumers in the World telling them to cut their production seems wildly hypocritical. Those governments would be correct. There is an obligation upon the developed nations to lead the charge in Climate Action and Climate Justice. We cannot sit around and feel pride in ourselves for finally sharing a status about the tragic burning of the rainforests. We must approach developing nations with humility and perspective and do our best to cooperate, create solutions and to invest in creating a more sustainable and developed world for us all.
Mark Guilfoyle – Opinion Writer