Ecocide is what has been happening to Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest for the last three weeks, and it’s time everyone knew.
According to new data, fires in the area are up by 83 per cent, according to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). The states affected are located in the North West of the country and the largest of them all, Amazonas, declared a state of emergency over the rising number of forest fires just this month.
The situation is so bad that earlier this week São Paulo, a mega-city of more than 12m people, experienced a blackout that lasted for more than an hour. São Paulo sits 2,7000km from the flames, but winds blew vast smoke clouds through the city blocking light from the sun. The intensity of the fires is illustrated by the fact you can see the smoke from space and rainwater collected the following day was of an upsetting colour. See the image here.
Fires at this time of the year are common, and it is true that some may be naturally caused. However, when viewed in the context of Brazil’s right-wing PM Jair Bolsonaro it is easy to assume human involvement. Bolsonaro does not regard the environment as important and has recently sacked the head of Brazil’s environment agency. Hence, critics say he has encouraged loggers and farmers to set fire to large parts of the forest, clearing the land.
Described as the ‘Lungs of our Planet’, the Amazon rainforest is invaluable to the last hopes of balancing the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. It acts as a carbon store and provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen. If the continued sabotage of this life source remains ignored, the consequences will be lethal.
More horrifying is the total destruction this project will do to human and natural life. The rainforest is home to one million indigenous people and in competition with potential capital, their rights have consistently been abused. The Amazon also holds a rich variety of wildlife and supports the habitats for over three million species of animals and plants.
Here in Europe, the welfare of a remote life unique to the Amazon may seem far away, but we must understand the level of human violence required to let this go ignored. Bolsonaro won his election and has earned his time in power.
However, neither he nor any world leader has a mandate for the destruction of the natural Earth. Those in power, away from the singed fields of Brazil, must act and discuss methods to stop this.
Jens Glüsing from the German newspaper Der Spiegel agrees, saying:
‘The time has come to impose sanctions on Brazil. The unfolding of the climate in the world depends on the maintenance of the Amazon rainforest’.
His call to action is refreshing but one must understand that sanctions will be hard to justify. Interfering with Brazil’s domestic policy will be framed as an aggressive encroachment on its national sovereignty. Ultimately damaging support.
This is why the battleground for environmental action must turn to the courts, a point well understood by environmental groups. Termed ‘ecocide’, activists want to recognise the damage to the earth as an atrocious crime, alongside genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. They want this particular term inscribed into law, thereby legitimizing intervention for regimes like Bolsonaro’s.
This was the key objective of Extinction Rebellion’s Spring Protests. In front of the Royal Courts on London’s Strand, the activist group parked a blue boat stating, ‘ACT NOW — Make Ecocide Law’.
Bolsonaro’s record does little to encourage an environmentalist. He recently said, ‘I did not come here to be radical about environmental issues. The environment can and will marry to development’. He and his allies see the Amazon rainforest as capital. Burn it down, make space and then mine, farm and do business.
As onlookers, this is hard to watch but we must not wince and ignore the violence. Those who care for the Earth must mobilise around policies that can stop governments like Brazil’s. We must also overcome the naivety that sees us react weakly to incidents far from our shores. Take the reaction to the tragic fire this year of Notre Dame. Before the flames had even been extinguished, French billionaires had thrown over $650 million at the disaster. As environmentalist Jack Harries says of the Amazon:
‘The world’s greatest cathedral is burning and there’s no rebuilding this one!’
Earlier this year, Boris Johnson told environmental activists to go to Tiananmen Square and ‘lecture China’ instead. Yet, in the UK there are major projects in operation at London’s City Airport, Heathrow and Bristol airport that all need to be opposed. The damage to our Earth however big or small, however near or far must end.
Along with all the laws that shape the way we behave on this Earth, ecocide must be one. This can be the first step to smothering the flames in Brazil and beginning the process of illegalisation of environmental destruction worldwide.