The Amazon rainforest is known for its astounding biodiversity, size and importance to the rainforest ecosystem. In fact, the Amazon rainforest alone is responsible for 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen, thus earning itself the nickname of Earth’s “lungs.” However, satellite pictures showing the devastating aftermath of record-breaking fires have been circulating the Internet for the past week in hopes of raising awareness to the seriousness of the fires. So, what does it mean when our planet’s “lungs” are burning?
While rainforest fires are not atypical, with many farmers burning vegetation for agricultural purposes, deforestation has increased by 80 percent this year, denoting a serious change in typical fire patterns. Many view Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, as the person to blame for this change in deforestation rates. Bolsonaro’s notoriously pro-business attitude toward the Brazilian agriculture industry has undoubtedly contributed to this dangerous trend. Farmers invigorated by this support have begun to use self-declared “fire days” to purposely set fire to the Amazon in order to make space for grazing cattle. The president’s unabashed support has earned him the name of “Captain Chainsaw.” Therefore, the burning Amazon means something that conservationists have long attempted to express: Conservative politicians will stop at nothing to further their corporate greed.
The global interest in climate change has seen a sharp increase in recent years. Eighty-two percent of Democratic respondents in a CNN poll claim it is very important that presidential candidates for the 2020 election take “aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.” While Democrats seemingly agree on the importance of delaying climate change, Republicans rarely support environmentalism with the same ardor. As climate change discussion has risen in political debates, so has the politicization of the climate crisis itself. While Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have thrown their support toward the “aggressive action” Democrats seek, Republicans are quick to call policy proposals such as Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal “radical.” In fact, many Republicans openly deny the climate crisis at all, with Trump himself once claiming it was entirely a hoax created by China.
The denial or ignorance of climate change, specifically on behalf of conservative politicians, is most likely due to the typical pro-business stance Republicans are known for. Similar to Bolsonaro, many conservatives are unlikely to support ethical business policies because of the accompanying profit loss they bring. For example, Bolsonaro declared during his election campaign that Brazilian-protected lands were an “obstacle” to economic growth. In a similar vein, Bolsonaro recently denied a $20 million pledge from the G-7 to fight the Amazonian fires without an apology from Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, for his previous statements condemning Bolsonaro’s lack of action.
Although climate change awareness in the political scene appears to have greatly increased, French scientific historians Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz boldly claim that “this story of awakening is a fable.” What Bonneuil and Fressoz claim to be the false “story” of climate change in their book, “The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us” is one that many of us have learned and unknowingly assented to — one of an unknowing past and a suddenly conscious present. While CNN’s poll, along with popular opinion, serves to suggest that awareness will aid in the slowing of climate change effects, environmental activists have opposed industrialization for much longer than this story insinuates, with written dissent dating back to the 1850s. Bonneuil and Fressoz then claim that this story only serves to depoliticize what atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen calls the Anthropocene: our current geological age. Prior to this term, many geologists believed that humans were still in the previous age, the Holocene. In saying this, Crutzen then suggested that human impact had propelled our planet into an entirely new geological epoch than before. This epoch — the Anthropocene — is dominated by humans, characterized by industrialization and precariously influential on Earth’s geological cycles.
Bonneuil and Fressoz’s book states that humans, with our destructive and political industrialization efforts, must be understood as a massive geological force if we are to delay climate change. Therefore, Bolsonaro’s decision to endorse business practices that dismantle the entire globe’s ecological stability must be condemned. Bolsonaro’s encouraged infringement on such vital rainforest grounds sets an extremely dangerous precedent for future political and corporate business practices. This may truly only be called a “precedent” because of the Amazon’s importance on a worldwide scale, given that smaller acts of corporate greed all add up to our current climate in dismay.
The unnecessary division of climate change into a Democratic or Republican issue only further delays the improvement of Earth’s climate crisis. In order to create meaningful and progressive change, the myth of our late awakening to environmental degradation must be dismantled so that Earth’s most pressing issue can finally garner bipartisan support. In taking universal responsibility for our greed, we take the first essential step to mending our broken planet.
Kaitlyn Liu is a sophomore majoring in English.