Burning Brazil

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Volunteer writer Bethan Clargo presents why the Amazon is burning, who is responsible and what we can do here in the UK to help change the impact of deforestation.

 

We’ve all heard the news. The Amazon Rainforest is burning to the ground. But it’s not just the Amazon; it’s the Cerradotoo. And it’s not just the fault of cattle farmers, it’s the fault of soya farmers also. And it’s not just President Bolsonaro’s fault, it’s Trump’s fault as well. And it’s not just Brazilians who are responsible for the fires, we are at fault too. So what is the cause of these fires? And who is responsible? And what can we do to help?

The fires in Brazil are not a new phenomenon. Every year forest fires start during the dry season, due to natural events or planned burning to clear land. However, this year the number of fires has increased, and the percentage of land lost due to intentional deforestation seems directly related to this. The issue; no one knows what is the exact cause for the increase in fires. Some suggested it could just be down to nature, an extremely dry season, a drought. But these fires have occurred early on in the dry season, in locations where deforestation is a better explanation than climatic conditions. Others blame Donald Trump and his trade war with China. Quite simply, Americans cannot sell their soybeans to China, leaving a gap in the business for Brazil. Therefore, Brazilian farmers need more land to grow more soybeans to sell to China and that’s why they’re burning the forest. However, these farmers are aware they need to make a living and they’re aware of how the international market can see the devastating impact of these fires on the world. They’re scared the international outrage will lead to a block on Brazilian exports and they will lose their whole livelihood because of this. It is more than likely nothing to do with them. Some blame the cattle farmers for burning to expand their ranches. But they have the same issue as the soy farmers, how can they make their living if they can’t trade? And how can they rear their animals if their farms are surrounded by fire?

The big issue here seems to be the stance of the Brazilian Government. The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro seems to have encouraged the use of the Amazon as a natural resource for the Brazilian Public. To understand this fully, we have to recognise that when Brazil fell into a recession in 2015, the amount of money filtering into anti-deforestation environmental policies decreased and the amount of deforestation began to rise. There are facts for this, from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, but Bolsanarodisagreed with these facts. He disagreed so greatly that he fired the head of the organisation and began to defund environmental initiatives across the government. The Cattle ranchers and loggers are taking advantage of the lack of fines implemented for extensive deforestation, setting alight vast areas of land. This seems to have encouraged the mass burning of the Amazon and Cerrado forest early on in the dry season, too early for the November rains to wash the fires away. This unregulated burning, spurred on by the government policy changes, seems to have been the spark for the fires to spread and rapidly get out of control.

We can’t be excluded from the blame. Some UK fast-food chains have been found selling meat that was fed on soybeans linked to deforestation in Brazil. Despite many brands signing the Cerrado Manifesto, a document that recognises a need to prevent deforestation in Brazil, Cargill, an agricultural trader linking farmers and food companies hasn’t signed up. It has also resisted a temporary ban imposed on soya grown on newly deforested land. Therefore, some of our favourite fast-food chains are using meat reared on Brazilian soybeans in their restaurants. We as consumers are eating these products, linking ourselves to the forest fires in Brazil.

So how can we help? Considering these fires are emitting vast amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, we can try to cut down on our carbon emissions to offset this increase. Butin reality, as much as we try, this will only create a small difference. We could boycott fast-food companies that are still using soya from the regions where deforestation is occurring. However, the soya from Brazil in their animal feed is variable, often negligible and many companies are aiming to end deforestation in their supply chain within the next ten years. So with the Brazilian President rejecting aid and the fires still raging on throughout the Amazon and Cerrado, the best thing we can do is hope that rain comes to dampen the fires and save the forest.

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