A Fire at the Other End of the World
News analysis

A Fire at the Other End of the World



During his travels across the country, Gandhiji used to meet all sorts of people and in one of these encounters he had a wizened old tribal come to him with a red parrot feather and waving it furiously and speaking agitatedly. The man was concerned that this parrot’s feather that used to be spotted under a particular tree was not seen that year and that it foretold something terrible. It transpired that it was the feather of a Brazilian parrot that used to fly all the way just a month ahead of the southwest monsoon. Gandhiji gave the advice that the Brazilian ambassador be requested to gift two birds and solve the problem.

Brazil is again in the news and the blaze in the Amazon has been going on for more than a month. At the recent G7meeting in France, when this was raised the Brazilian President brushed it aside as a minor issue and the US President has always been a climate change denier. The Brazilian leader also spurned the magnanimous G7 offer to help control the fires and said his country was capable of handling it without any outside help.

The largest rain forest in the world and considered as its lungs, the Amazon has been on fire for the past few weeks and it is reported that the blaze could be seen from the space, as NASA has released these pictures. This has attracted world media attention and forced the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has dismissed these as the environmental groups’ scare mongering finally agree to deploy troops to control the fires.

Covering the major part of the South American continent a major chunk of the Amazon forests is in Brazil and the fire has affected a large area of heavy population density with the smoke blocking sunlight in places like Rondonia and Acre and impacting far-lying areas like the Atlantic coast and even Sao Paolo.

According to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research, as many as 72,000 cases of fire had been reported in 2019 alone of which 9,500 had happened in the past few days. It seems the anti-environment policies of Bolsonaro have been the trigger for the peasants to resort to these devastating actions. They are reported to have organised a ‘fire day’ along the highway that passes through the heart of the rainforest and had set ablaze rain forest to attract the government’s attention.

Amazon is also a metaphor for expansiveness, if one considers that it contributes 20 per cent of the oxygen in the atmosphere and being home to a range of indigenous communities for ages and also rich in mineral deposits It is no wonder that it has attracted the attention of predators, foreign multi-nationals and even countries on an expansion spree, like China. Since these rain forests help maintain the water cycle even on a global scale, tampering with these to satisfy the greed and rapacity of players far away needs to be viewed with concern. That is why even when caught in the tariff war with the United States, China has been reaching out to far way Brazil to persuade them to cultivate soya in these rain forest to meet their domestic demand, which could have long term implications. It is not that Trump alone, or even Bolsonaro, who has been unconcerned about climatic changes.

For a long time, Brazilian law had protected the rain forests and did not allow anyone to exploit these resources. The Brazilian Forest Code of 1965 allowed that farmers could purchase land but could cultivate only 20 per cent of it. Two decades later the new constitution gave the indigenous population legal ownership of the land and also the right to reject any development of their land. And in 2012, these were revised and six years later the Supreme Court upheld these changes and the next year, the newly elected President, Bolsonaro, promised that his government would allow business in the Amazon region so rich in reserves of gold and other rich minerals. ‘Just because a handful of Indians want to conserve it, we should not sit on these natural resources,’ he remarked to an American newspaper.

It is not only the gold and soya that has been on the radar of the predators. As far as a decade ago Greenpeace had reported that the demand for leather has been fuelling the destruction of these rain forests. Completely defying Brazil’s ‘Forest Code’ cattle ranchers were clearing these forests in open defiance of the laws. It has been computed that one hectare of rain forest was being lost to these cattle ranchers every18 seconds and Brazilian beef companies were supplying leather across leading global fashion brands and retailers.

Ironically enough one of the champions of preserving the pristine glory of the rain forests is a fashion goods firm of Paris that had pledged 20 million dollars to Macron, the French President, to fight the Amazon fires.’ We need to take concrete action, not just words and joint statements, when such dangers arise in order to provide resources for the local people and specialists to work together to save the planet,’ said the CEO of the leather goods firm. The former President Lula da Silva, an ambitious leader who was at the helm for seven years and also was sentenced for a 12-year term for corruption, made speeches about saving ‘the lungs of the earth’ had sponsored its wholesale destruction. This Amazon is celebrated for its fauna of jaguars, and all kinds of colourful birds and butterflies and also for an Indian imported cow, Nelore, with folds of skin collecting around its neck. This herd grew in the Savannas and at one time had a head count of 60 million. Bovine methane emissions had been one of the reasons attributed to the global pollution and hot house gases.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, listed conglomerates to delink their supply chains from this Amazon destruction as a result of which the biggest meat companies in that country signed a pact with the prosecutors not to buy cattle directly from illegally deforested areas.

A decade back, or even earlier, the favelas of Brazil and especially on the outskirts of the largest cities, especially Rio, these sprawling slums were a menace and police used to hunt the urchins there. It is believed that these urchins were the felled trees that had incarnated as children come to haunt them. And out of the favelas on Rio’s beaches had emerged such football players as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos!

For those at the helm, whether they be Trump or Xi, or Macron, or the man in the saddle in Britain, Boris Johnson, these little prairie fires at the end of the other hemisphere, hardly matters just as the little parrot’s feather mattered for Gandhiji. For that, you require another kind of perception, and only those living in harmony with nature can have it, not the Greens, not the ‘Save the Tiger’ champions. The flutter of a butterfly and the Texas tornado might have become a hackneyed cliché to the new generation Boy Scouts, but it takes an effort to live in harmony with nature, listen to it, and observe it. That needs a St Francis or Ramanna Maharshi who could understand what the birds are saying or feeling. Kyoto Protocol and Paris accords are for the well-heeled (preferably from Brazilian leather) to raise a toast to the ecologically friendly world.


The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.