Scorched earth mars the Amazon rainforest floor for miles. At the fire line, a wall of blazing trees and plumes of smoke separates the wasteland from the lush green trees still standing. The world’s largest forest has been on fire for over four weeks now, and world leaders are reacting.
Departing their summit in Biarritz on Monday, the G7 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union—had agreed to an immediate donation package of over $20 million to assist Amazon countries in their fight against wildfires. (President Donald Trump did not attend the session, though his team was present.) The G7’s donation fell on ungrateful ears, however, as Brazil, the country most devastated by the fires, rejected the international aid.
“We are thankful, but maybe those resources would be more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni told G1 Globo. Lorenzoni serves as chief of staff to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has himself come under fire for his environmental policies. He’s encouraged logging and mining in the rainforest, and critics blame those practices for the surge of fires this year. So far in 2019, Brazil saw 82,285 fires, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research, though not all of those fires originated in the Amazon Basin. Last week, when Men’s Journal initially covered the Amazon’s fires, that number was 74,155.
At this rate, 2019 will see twice as many fires in Brazil as the country had in 2018. This is the most active fire year Brazil has seen since 2010, before the country’s environmental policies were overhauled.
While wildfires can occur naturally—usually when lightning ignites drought-stricken land—most of them are manmade. That’s especially true for the Amazon rainforest, where nearly all of the fires are started illegally by cattle ranchers seeking to clear land for pastures. Since coming into office in January, Bolsonaro has been lax with enforcing regulations intended to prevent these fires.
Just a few days ago, Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles publicly endorsed the $20 million donation, but the government has completely reversed course. Bolsonaro spoke to G1 to condemn both the plan and one of its chief donors, French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site,” Bolsonaro said, referring to April’s Notre Dame cathedral fire. “What does he intend to teach our country?” He went on to say that “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron.”
Bolsonaro’s rejection is more fuel for a burning feud between the two world leaders. Last week, Macron called the Amazon fires an international crisis, which Bolsonaro took to be an insult to his administration. Bolsonaro later endorsed denigrating comments against Macron’s wife on Facebook. Now, the Brazilian leader insists that before their two countries can negotiate and before Bolsonaro can accept any amount of aid, “even if it comes from the best possible intentions, [Macron] must retract his words. Then we can talk.”
Meanwhile, of course, the rainforest is still burning. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental organization, Earth Alliance, recently pledged $5 million toward local South American groups, including indigenous populations, the people hit hardest by the fires. But environmental activists are saying that though the donations are helpful, a cumulative $25 million isn’t nearly enough to walk back years of harmful environmental regulations the Brazilian government had put in place to exploit the rainforest for monetary gain.
It’s not just Brazil that’s in trouble, either—Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela also share Amazon Basin territory, though the blazes are currently strongest in Bolivia and Brazil. Bolivian President Evo Morales announced this weekend that he would accept any and all international support in fighting the fires.
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