BBC Wildlife Magazine

The conservati­onist discusses Jair Bolsonaro’s actions in the Amazon

The conservati­onist discusses Jair Bolsonaro’s actions concerning the Amazon rainforest and invites your thoughts on the subject.


 The world has a stake in the future of the Amazon rainforest. 

It’s shocking to realise that, no matter how many campaigns are fought, treaties signed or protected areas establishe­d, the future of life on Earth rests, to a large extent, with a handful of irresponsi­ble, irrational and ignorant individual­s.

Environmen­tal decisions that are critical to the entire planet are made on a whim. Donald Trump did it for climate change ( just for starters) and now Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is doing it for the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. Covering 40 per cent of the South American continent, it spans no fewer than eight countries (nine, if you include French Guiana, a department of France). The most species-rich biome on Earth – with one in ten of all known species – it’s also a critical carbon storehouse.

Yet this life-support machine has been plundered and destroyed for decades. Clearing to make room for cattle and crops, logging for timber and paper, mining, dam constructi­on, road building and urban expansion are all to blame.

Destructio­n peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when an area the size of Israel and Palestine combined was being cleared every year. The devastatio­n never stopped, but it did slow down for a decade or so, following internatio­nal pressure and a concerted effort by the Brazilian government (Brazil controls 59 per cent of the rainforest).

Then along came Bolsonaro, in January 2019. The man dubbed ‘Tropical Trump’ seems to show nothing but contempt for the environmen­t and he promptly dismantled environmen­tal regulation­s, reduced environmen­tal law enforcemen­t, stripped protection from conservati­on areas and indigenous territorie­s, and actively encouraged the expansion of mining, logging and other damaging industries. Rates of deforestat­ion have soared in the two years since.

By the Brazilian government’s own estimates, 17–18 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has gone already (not including large swathes that are more or less intact, but degraded) with 1 per cent more being cleared every three years. We are hurtling towards an irreversib­le tipping point – predicted to be about 20–25 per cent destructio­n – when the region will enter what one expert describes as “a sustained death spiral”.

The whole world has a stake in the future of the Amazon rainforest, and Bolsonaro needs to be held accountabl­e.

The good news is that two indigenous chiefs in Brazil clearly agree. Almir Suruí and Raoni Metuktire have asked the Internatio­nal Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigat­e

Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity. The UN-backed court recently added environmen­tal crimes to its remit (along with genocide and war crimes), though if this isn’t a crime against humanity, goodness knows what is.

I understand that ‘owning’ a significan­t portion of the Amazon rainforest is both a blessing and a curse. If the rest of the world wants it to be safeguarde­d, it wouldn’t be unreasonab­le to expect the rest of the world to contribute financiall­y. But I feel Bolsonaro’s conduct is inexcusabl­e.

The ICC opens a monumental window of opportunit­y. Bolsonaro isn’t the only world leader who could be accused of ecocide (deliberate­ly causing serious and lasting damage to the environmen­t).

Next in the dock, I’d put China’s President Xi Jinping for, among many other things, continuing to allow trade in wild animals on a staggering scale (a global risk to wildlife and human health alike – as we’ve learnt to our cost in the past 18 months).

It’s got to be better than campaignin­g and cajoling – which takes too long and clearly doesn’t work. It seems as though the Trumps, Bolsonaros and Jinpings of this world don’t care about anything but themselves. Making these enemies of the environmen­t personally responsibl­e for their crimes might make them think twice before causing irreversib­le damage that affects us all.

MARK CARWARDINE is a frustrated and frank conservati­onist.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to support Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifele­

 ??  ?? Jair Bolsonaro has caused controvers­y since becoming president of Brazil.
Jair Bolsonaro has caused controvers­y since becoming president of Brazil.
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