Fires are destroying Amazon rain forest for the last three weeks with nearly 75,000 fires ravaging. According to Brazil’s National Institute of for Space Research(INPE). there has been a increase of 80 % fires compared to last summer. Three football fields of land in the Brazilian Amazon are deforested every minute. This week, the intensity of fires is so high that the capital city, Saint Paulo located 2,700 km away turned completely dark during mid day shrouded by dark clouds of smoke. Reports of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research indicates that in July this year there has been an increase of fires by 80 % up by 39 % compared to last year and Amazon forest shrunk by 1,345 km. Many of these fires have been started by loggers and farmers to clear vast tracks of forest for cattle ranching, agriculture or mining. Fires accelerated rapidly during the last few months after right wing Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s new President, who actively opened the Amazon to corporate exploitation, a key plank of his election campaign
Amazon rain forest is vast, over 26 lakh square miles, spread over Brazil, Columbia, Bolivia, French Guyana, Surinam and Venezuela, occupying nearly 40 % of Brazil. Amazon is the largest rain forest located on the catchment area of mighty Amazan river and is the largest of the other two rain forests- Congo and Bornia (Indonesia). Rain forests are considered lungs of the planet as they absorb Carbon dioxide from atmosphere during photosynthesis and release Oxygen. Amazon alone emits 20 % of Oxygen that sustains life on our planet. But the blaze in the Amazon, which absorbs 25 % of the 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon from the planet’s atmosphere is removed every year. A satellite picture of NASA, above the Amazon released recently by Brazilian Space Research Institute showing burning red patches and indicating concentrations of atmospheric carbon monoxide (CO) above 1200 parts per billion. CO is an indicator of burning in progress. Ironically, annoyed with release of technical details, the very next day President Bolsonaro has sacked the Director of Brazilian Space research Institute. Deforestation and subsequent increase in Carbon dioxide in to atmosphere substantially rises temperatures and brings climate change. Apart from Global warming and melting of Antarctic an ice, deforestation also disrupts monsoons. Unseasonal rains coupled with floods and droughts are a consequence of deforestation. Deforestation has been displacing millions of indigenous Panara and other Red Indian tribes living in the Amazon forests. Deforestation reduces genetic diversity, loss of biodiversity and disappearance of number of plant, animal, bird and other species. Amazon is the home for nearly 30 % of wild animals and bird habitat. Heart wrenching to watch on TV screens how scores of distressed animals and birds running helter skelter aimlessly to escape from encircling fire.
Why Amazon is burning?
Nine months in an year it rains continuously ( annual rainfall 250 to 350 cm) and that’s why they are called rain forests. Unlike dry forests of California or Australia rain forest with a cloudy and rainy weather don’t get fire easily. Fire is used in the Amazon as a technique to clear land for agricultural use. The practice is often illegal. According to the World Bank report, cattle ranching has fueled up to 91% of deforestation since 1970. In addition, one of the main crops grown in the rainforest is soybeans used for animal feed. Rich European farmers and major agro business multinational firms such as Cargil and Nestle own lakhs of hectares of cattle ranches. Soybeans are cultivated in the deforested lands to feed lakhs of cows raised. Everyday nearly 67,000 cows are exported to major fast food multinationals such as Mc Donalds, Burger King, Subway and others for cooking meat burgers in their restaurants. For example Mc Donalds located across 100 countries with thousands of restaurants catering to millions of people everyday. In a word Deforestation of Amazon rain forests is caused by major multinationals for easy and high profits but on the expense of environment. The spike in deforestation is depressing, but hardly surprising with right wing regimes pursuing neoliberal economic policies and facilitating big agro business firms by violating and dismantling nearly every environmental policy. Annual Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) during 2018 stood at 730 US bln Dollars mainly from Agri business and US mining industry.
The flames are not confined to just Brazil but also to neighboring countries. Unlike his Brazilian counterpart President Bolsonaro, neighboring Bolivia ‘s Leftist President Evo Morales, actively sprang in to fire fighting to arrest the devastating blaze and even put his re-election campaign on hold temporarily. He welcomed the foreign aid to fight the fires.
Very apt to refer Karl Marx in this context, on how Capitalism alienates man from nature, plunders it’s resources and commodifies them for the sack of profits. He clearly explains how capitalism inherently abuses nature for accumulation and commodification and systematically alienates human labor away from it (John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000). To protect nature and environment we should get away with Capitalism and build the socialist society which alone is capable to sustain life on our planet away from destruction and maintains the organic link between nature and man.
Dr Soma Marla, Indian Council for Agricultural Research( ICAR) New Delhi