It's a sad day when Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro is proved right.
That’s what happened this week when he called out French President Emmanuel Macron for displaying a “colonial” mindset about the burning of the Amazon Forest.
Said Bolsanaro: “He hides his intentions behind the idea of analliance of G7 countries to save Amazonia as if we were a colony or no man’s land.” Amazonia is neither. Most of it is Brazilian.
Bolsanaro is the Brazilian premier and though many decried his election win, saying the former premier Luis de Silva’s prison term for corruption was lengthened in order to keep him out of the race, that is a different discussion and one we mightn’t even be having if we liked what Bolsanaro was doing.
It’s true, as Macron said this week, that the forest is at leastpart of the “lungs of the planet”, producing possibly 6% of the world’s oxygen, if not 20% as widely reported.
We can’t live without lungs or even without an essential part of our lungs.
So what’s to be done?
A bit of humility would be agood start. We are the supplicants here.
There’s no point thundering to Bolsanaro, as Macron did, “We cannot allow you to destroy everything”, particularly if you are president of a country which, as Bolsanaro’s security chief rightly said, “left a trail of destruction, chaos and misery” in its colonial wake.
Who remembers France’s nuclear testing on the Muraroa atoll, in French Polynesia, which started in the 1960s and went on for 30 years?
The French Polyesians do and have taken a case against France to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Thankfully those pesky Polynesians don’t have the ability to wreck the planet’s climate, as do the Brazilians.
Aren’t we Irish right ones to be talking about wrecking the planet, though, having just been beaten by only two countries, Luxembourg and Estonia, in the list of the worst carbon emitters, per person, in the EU?
We live on an island denuded of trees.
Oh sorry, the British did that — “Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad?”, as the song goes.
You notice it was the lack of wood the traditional poet was lamenting, not the lack of trees.
I’d say we cut down plenty of our own trees and we’ve not done much to replace broadleaved forest in the century since independence. Maybe we should take Bolsanaro’s advice and ask Macron to give us that €20m the G7 is offering Brazil, so we can reforest Ireland?
It might make a bit of a dent in our treelessness, at least; it’s not going to be much use in the Amazon.
During the 2017 Tubbs firein northern California whichaffected less than 1.5m acres, the bill for fire-fighting alone was US$100m.
There are currently 70,000 fires burning in the Amazon Forest, affecting some 640m acres.
We are not even at “peak burn” which will come next month.
The current fires sparked from forest which was cut down and left to dry out in May and June.
In July alone an area of trees that is half the size of the state of Rhode Island has been cut down and those trees are yet to burn.
The Luggala Estate in Co Wicklow of just 5,000 acres has just been sold for an undisclosed sum but the initial asking price was €28.
It puts that G7 €20m in context.
The West has pots of money and Brazilian farmers know it.
Many of them don’t have pots of money. Cutting down the Brazilian forest increases the value of the land by up to 100% and so they often cut it when they can.
So would we. Look at how we continue to cut away at our carbon-storing bogs and over-stock our land with carbon-emitting cattle.
We do it because we have set out our economy to make these practices pay.
The people who do this workmay be polluting the planet but their focus is on feeding their families.
Who could fail to be moved by the protesting beef farmer on RTÉ radio this week, his voice breaking as he feared he wouldn’t be able to buy his kids’ school books?
The answer here doesn’t involve calling the farmer a bad person; instead it is to give him an income for doing work which sequesters, rather than emits, carbon.
This is the right answer for the Amazon too.
Clearly Bolsanaro helped light the fire under the forest by vowing to grant no more land rights to “indigenous” people and to protect farmers carrying arms.
He wouldn’t have got support for this approach, however, if it didn’t pay.
The West’s pitting of “indigenous” people against farmers is more colonialism in action.
We are all indigenous to this planet. The tribes who live in the Amazon probably crossed theBering Strait from Asia and may have been farmers themselves when the Portuguese arrived and pushed them into the forest.
Their land rights should be vindicated according to the best international practice, which is itself a superimposition of European norms on ancient Amazonian practices.
The idea of the Amazonian tribes as “noble savages” protecting our planet from their Emerald Forest is a classic Edenic fantasy and insults both them and their fellow Brazilians in equal measure.
We must recognise that Brazilians can and will do what they like on their own territory.
Instead of threatening them, as our Taoiseach did, saying Ireland would “monitor Brazil’s environmental actions” in the two years it will take before the EU-Mercosur trade deal between the EU and four South American countries goes to the vote, we must reward them for doing the right thing.
An Amazon-friendly trade deal would pay Brazil and Brazilians more for maintaining the forest than they get for cutting it down. This strategy has been trialled on a small scale in Mexico, Uganda and elsewhere and quickly halved tree felling.
It wouldn’t come in at €20m in the case of Brazil. It wouldn’t even come in at US$564m which is the pathetic sum so far promised by the UN Adaptation Fund for developing nations set up under the Kyoto Protocol.
I don’t have a figure in mind for the protection of the 390bn trees which made up the Amazon Forest when I was writing this article.
Or even the rather fewer trees there are now that you’ve finished reading it.
I am certain, however, that it doesn’t come close to the value, with interest, of the riches plundered by Europe from Brazil since 1500.
Not to mention the cost of our11 tonnes per head of carbon emissions in the EU, as against 2.23 tonnes per head in Brazil, which partner with the loggers’ axes in the drying and burning of our last great forest.