Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. He has taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.
President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory over Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil represents a historic chance to begin to undo some of the great damage inflicted on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest over the past four years. Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has ravaged the earth for short-sighted gains, overturning environmental regulations that any sane human being would wish to preserve in the face of unprecedented global degradation. Bolsonaro has systematically dismantled environmental protections so that those who care less about the environment are free to clear the land and turn it into pasture without any accountability. The crisis unfolding in the Amazon is a catastrophe for climate change, biodiversity, the indigenous peoples of the region, and the untold wonders that human science has yet to understand.
A 2020 study published in the journal Nature showed that if the systematic destruction of the Brazilian Amazon continues unabated, much of it could become arid savannah, or even “dry scrubland”, within decades given the rate of deforestation, in largely due to deliberate and illegal burning intended to turn the forest into pasture. With the devastation of rainforests comes also the devastation of indigenous peoples whose lands and livelihoods are being destroyed by deforestation.
Imagine, between August 2020 and July 2021, more than 5,000 square miles of rainforest were lost in the Brazilian Amazon – that’s an area larger than the area of Connecticut. In fact, under Bolsonaro, the rate of destruction reached its highest level in a decade, as his administration turned a blind eye to illegal logging, deforestation of indigenous lands and, as Amnesty International notes, “violence against those who live and seek to defend their territories.
Under Bolsonaro’s irresponsible and corrupt regime, his government deliberately “weakened environmental law enforcement agencies, undermining their ability to effectively sanction environmental crimes or detect illegal timber exports”, as described by Human Rights. Watch. Fines for illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon were suspended by presidential decree in early October 2019. Illegal land seizures in reserves and indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon have become commonplace, as Bolsonaro slashed the budgets of agencies that protected the jungle from unauthorized clearing. Criminal organizations, aptly dubbed “rainforest mafias”, allow cattle ranchers to operate with impunity and, according to the US State Department, possess the “logistical capacity to coordinate the extraction, processing and the sale of timber on a large scale, while deploying armed men to protect their interests”.
It is difficult to imagine the extent of the destruction caused by Bolsonaro to the Amazon. Such rampant deforestation is tragic on many levels – it destroys habitats and countless species are pushed to the brink of extinction when we are already in the midst of a mass extinction of animals, insects and plants on this planet . It is accelerating the onslaught of climate change when we are already facing the disastrous effects of a warming planet. And it is wiping out the lands of indigenous peoples who have already suffered and been persecuted and murdered for decades.
Certainly, the extent of rainforest devastation under Bolsonaro was so enormous that we can barely begin to comprehend the loss to humanity, science and our knowledge of undiscovered plants and animals that hold the answers to the questions. which we have not even dreamed of. It is a shameful loss for the whole world and for generations to come.
The Bolsonaro government has failed miserably to act as a responsible guardian of the Amazon and the Pantanal (the world’s largest tropical wetland located primarily in Brazil, which, along with the Amazon, has some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world) – instead, he helped in every way can hasten this unimaginable devastation. Dr. Michelle Kalamandeen, a tropical Amazon rainforest ecologist, observed that “when a forest is lost, it is gone forever. Recovery may occur, but never 100% recovery. »
We must put an end to this travesty. By this wanton and woefully myopic decimation of rainforests, we are depriving humanity of knowledge that could alter medicine, improve our lives, and transform the world, from the way we build our cities to the way we build our homes.
Plant and animal species inspire new technologies, new forms of architecture, new types of design and materiality. Yet probably less than 1% of rainforest trees and plants have been studied by science – although as much as 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients. By allowing rampant deforestation to continue, we are causing ourselves and future generations incalculable and unconscionable harm.
Let us remember that the Amazon does not simply belong to the countries where it is located, it is not the exclusive resource of companies that can exploit it, appropriate its resources and destroy it with complete impunity. The Amazon is part of our collective heritage, an invaluable heritage that we must pass on to future generations, whatever benefits we might derive from its systematic rape.
And make no mistake, or mince words – the Amazon is violated hour by hour, month by month, year by year, and the world watches in silence as this violation is repeated daily. Time is running out for us to take meaningful action to stop this indiscriminate decimation of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
With Lula’s election as President of Brazil, we now have a historic opportunity to support him and encourage him to immediately begin working on a plan to reverse Bolsonaro’s disastrous policies in three main areas: the environment, public safety and scientific discoveries.
First, President Lula should start by banning deforestation, illegal logging and land grabbing. To this end, it must stop above all to pass a new law to enshrine in the Brazilian constitution that puts an end to the systematic destruction of the tropical forest. The law should include mandatory prison sentences as well as heavy fines to prevent illegal cattle ranchers and loggers from committing such crimes again with impunity.
Second, it must develop a comprehensive plan to protect the human rights of Indigenous communities from criminal networks that use violence, intimidation and terror to silence residents. It should make such a plan the center of its domestic policy while improving security and providing the necessary funding for environmental agencies to carry out their tasks diligently.
Third, President Lula should invite the global scientific community to further study the wonders of the Amazon and, in partnership with it, launch dozens of scientific projects that would benefit the whole world, while preserving the glory of the Amazon by as one of the central pillars in the fight against climate change.
Finally, President Biden, who understands very well the danger posed by climate change, should provide political support and financial assistance to President Lula to help him reverse some of the damage inflicted on the Amazon by his predecessor.
President Lula must view his rise to power and the responsibility placed on his shoulders as nothing less than a sacred mission that will help save the planet from the impending man-made disasters of climate change.
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