The footage of thousands of fires burning across the rainforests of Brazil and neighbouring countries has been distressing on so many levels, argues Alison Johnstone.
Not only is this incredible place the home of up to a million indigenous people and millions of plant and animal species, it is also responsible for around a fifth of the earth’s oxygen supply.
And given the essential role trees play in carbon storage, in terms of the climate emergency it is truly a cataclysmic event.
Wild fires in some of the world’s most iconic forests have become a regular occurrence as the world heats up, but the difference this time is that many of these blazes in Brazil are almost certainly man-made.
This is an international crime on a massive scale by a far-right government and its cronies in big business.
And the scale is frightening. Over 2,000 square kilometres of rainforest was lost in a single month.
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has denied climate science and promoted the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming and logging. This has given Brazil’s agricultural lobby free reign on this global resource, which has already been in decline since the 1990s. The first eight months of Bolsonaro’s rule has been an environmental disaster on a global scale.
That’s why it was appalling to see the UK trade minister in Brazil last week, negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Bolsonaro’s government. While Ireland, France and others showed EU solidarity by suspending trade talks, Boris Johnson’s Brexit project was participating in a race to the bottom by looking for deregulated deals with Bolsonaro and his ally Donald Trump.
UK minister Conor Burns should have been recalled from Brazil immediately. Instead, Johnson’s response contained no sense of urgency, no recognition of the Amazon’s vital life-giving role and its significance in tackling the climate emergency.
Our trade deals need to support reforestation, not maximum expansion of beef, soy and timber.
It’s easy to feel powerless when such a shocking world event like this happens, but there are things we can do in Scotland. The quick response from people like Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron shows the global influence Scotland can have as part of the EU. We need to be among those voices, not part of The UK’s narrow isolationism.
Meanwhile, in Scotland we should be stepping up reforestation. Nations will need to urgently look to offset this destruction by planting more trees at home.
As individuals, we need to think about collective action.
Better agriculture practices could play a huge role in the climate emergency, and NGOs on the frontline such as Imazon and Imaflora are working hard to ensure agriculture in the Amazon is sustainable. They deserve our support.
The forests are being cleared largely to rear livestock for meat and dairy, and to grow crops to feed those livestock populations. Being part of the change means being aware of what you are eating and where it comes from.
Thanks to the work of organisations like the Rainforest Alliance, we have a better idea of what products like chocolate and coffee are not involved with deforestation.
But we shouldn’t pretend that this global environmental crime can be solved by the actions of individuals alone. We need EU-wide and global action now, not capitulation by the Tories to facilitate their damaging Brexit.