Editorial : The Amazon rainforest fires

【明報專訊】THE FIRES ravaging the Amazon rainforest, the so‑called "lungs of the earth", are an ecological catastrophe threatening the entire human race.

Though the fires are taking place half the world away from Hong Kong, the city cannot stand in splendid isolation. Measuring 5.5 million square kilometres, the Amazon rainforest has an area equivalent to half of that of the world's rainforests in total. The Amazon rainforest plays a crucial role in the world's ecosystem. Aptly named "the lungs of the earth", it absorbs heat reflected back by the atmosphere onto the surface of planet earth as well as carbon dioxide, at the same time producing 20% of the planet's oxygen. The emission of greenhouse gases has accelerated global warming and caused a "fever", as it were, on earth. The ongoing fires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil measure 950 thousand hectares in area. They have created a huge amount of carbon emission and affected the planet's mechanism for ecological self‑regulation, giving reasonable cause for concern.

Brazil is the world's biggest exporter of beef, while Hong Kong imports the highest amount of Brazilian beef in the world, accounting for about 25% of the total. Even if the amount smuggled into mainland China is excluded, Hongkongers' aggregate consumption of Brazilian beef is believed to rank among the highest in the world. The ongoing fires in the Amazon rainforest are closely related to Brazilian beef. In recent years, in an attempt to raise income and improve their lives, many local farmers have been clearing woods with fire to create farmland for cattle‑raising and fodder production. Environmental groups have singled out cattle‑raising as the primary reason for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. As over 65% of land created through logging is used as pasture, it is hardly coincidental that the fires this year have been greater in severity than those in the past. The groups are pointing an accusing finger at Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's right‑wing populist president.

Bolsonaro was sworn into office early this year. His support for the development of the Amazon rainforest area for commercial activities has led to a sharp increase in illegal logging and wood‑burning for land. He has slashed the budget for environmental protection departments by 25% and relaxed regulations on illegal logging, and is said to have turned a blind eye to forest fire warnings. More than 78 thousand cases of mountain fires have happened in Brazil so far this year, a rise of 80% on the same period last year. Given this year's abundant rainfall in Brazil, it is unlikely that the fires have been caused by drought. It is believed that many of them have been human‑made.

On the one hand, Bolsonaro is stressing that the Amazon rainforest has an area even greater than that of Europe and that Brazil, lacking resources, cannot combat the burning of forests caused by humans on its own. But on the other hand, he is claiming that the fires are "under control" and is refusing other countries' offer of help. Such an attitude has inevitably led to criticism and deepened mistrust in the Brazilian authorities. However, his criticism of the "colonial mindset" of wealthy nations in the west and the pressure they have put on Brazil is not entirely unjustified. The G7 countries, deemed to be "a club of rich nations", convened a summit the other day. Saying that priority had to be given to discussion of the situation of the Amazon rainforest, Emmanuel Macron, host of the summit, warned that if Brazil did not cooperate on the fight against the fires, the French government would not confirm the free trade deal reached between the European Union and four South American countries — including Brazil — previously. The Brazilian people will find it hard to stomach such a threat. It is also unfair, as it will affect the other South American signatories of the deal.

明報社評2019.08.29:地球染「肺炎」巴西有責 發達國心態亦須反思







aptly named : named in a way that seems very suitable

coincidental : happening by chance; not planned

signatory : a person, a country or an organisation that has signed an official agreement

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