Climate change, Amazon fires come to France with G7 protests
Powerful ranching and farming interests encouraged by Brazil's right wing president, have been setting fires in the Amazon forests to "clear" the once protected land for capitalist development. | AP

BIARRITZ, France—The continuing controversy over international action – or lack of it – to deal with climate change, and the latest big threat to the environment, the massive Brazilian Amazonian wildfires, will descend on the G7 summit here this weekend.

The object: To force the leaders of the world’s top industrialized nations to do something about the issue, and to repudiate right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s snide lies that environmentalists have set some of the 72,843 wildfires (so far) in Brazil this summer.

More than half of the wildfires have been in the Amazon rainforest and the overall fire figure is 84% more than last summer. Environmental scholar Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paolo calculates more than 10,000 square kilometers have already burned.

The wildfires are an enormous environmental problem. The Amazon rainforest is so large that its foliage alone, through photosynthesis, converts carbon dioxide into 20% of the world’s oxygen. Without oxygen, animals and humans can’t survive.

So when the Amazon rainforest burns, the planet is literally gasping for breath.

Some of the groups who will stage the demonstrations in the resort city where the G7 leaders of the world’s industrialized nations are meeting point out those same nations’ capitalists, and those nations’ policies of exploitation, have led to the wildfires.

That includes Brazil: Bolsonaro, known as “the Donald Trump of Brazil,” has turned over “development” of the rainforest to multinational corporations interested in the minerals beneath the Amazon basin’s trees, and to farmers who engage in slash-and-burn agriculture.

Bolsonaro, like U.S. President Trump, also refuses to believe the evidence of climate change, and he shifts the blame for problems. When Brazil’s space agency posted satellite photos online of the extent of the wildfires, he fired the agency minister. Bolsonaro’s top Cabinet officers say environmentalists set some of the fires and criticize “the international left” for raising the issue.

But farmers told Brazilian media that Bolsonaro’s statements about developing the rainforest land encouraged them to go ahead with slash-and-burn. The fires many of them began are now uncontrolled.

According to Amazon Watch, one Brazilian organizer of a “Fire Day” protest that called for coordinated fires to be set across the Amazon said, “We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is deforesting. It’s to create pastures by [clearing forest], and with fire.”

All this has led to plans by the Alternative G7 groups, meeting in the French Basque country, to descend on Biarritz on August 25 to campaign to save the rainforests. The Alternative G7 includes more than 50 unions, environmental and social justice groups and progressives of various stripes.

Several of the groups in the Alternative G7, along with San Francisco-based Amazon Watch, recognize the capitalist policies the G7 nations promote are a big part of the problem – both of climate change and of the exploitation of natural resources that leads to the Amazon wildfires.

“The powers of the G-7 intend at their summit from August 24-26 in Biarritz to decide the fate of the international community when they are responsible for its problems,” including climate change, the French Communist Party told Prensa Latina, the Latin American press agency.

“It is not with the defense of financial capitalism, free trade agreements and the closing of borders to migrants that the solution to them can be found,” the party statement stressed.

Saying there should be a “G-195” summit of all nations instead, the party concluded: “The people do not need the G-7. The climate, social and economic crises and the dangers of war cannot be resolved by those responsible. One does not trust the truck with blood donations to Dracula.”

Aurelie Trouve of the French Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financières et pour l’Action Citoyenne – one of the Alternative G7 groups — told Euronews that the industrialized nations’ policies and politics worsen climate change, income inequality, poverty, and war. The Alternative G7 is precisely that, to present an alternative to rampant capitalism, its spokesman said.

“The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos,” said Amazon Watch Program Director Christian Poirier.

“This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth. Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a license to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.”

“A dominant, conservative faction of Brazil’s powerful agro-industrial sector known as the ‘ruralistas,’ is helping drive Bolsonaro’s Amazon agenda,” Amazon Watch’s position paper adds. Bolsonaro-appointed industrialists “are stripping protections for forests and land rights in order to gain unfettered access to areas currently safeguarded from industrial activity.”

“Their success would spell disaster for Brazil’s Amazonian forests and the indigenous and traditional peoples who call them home while jeopardizing the global climate.”

Jair Bolsonaro, known as the Donald Trump of Brazil. | Eraldo Peres/AP

“The political and economic power that sustains these retrograde actors is provided in large part by global market actors: Commodity traders, financiers, and consumers. European and North American businesses that finance and source from Brazilian businesses connected with today’s rollbacks, therefore, enable Brazil’s socio-environmental landscape to be reshaped to our collective detriment.”

“Politicians in Brazil pay more attention to international pressure than the voice of Brazilians,” Nobre told The Guardian. “I think international pressure is essential to reverse this tragic pathway. This may be the ultimate way to stop the Brazilian government from a suicide of the Amazon, which will have terrible consequences for the climate and for Brazil.”

French President Emanuel Macron has already announced he plans to bring the Amazon rainforest wildfires up before his fellow summiteers – including Trump.

“Our house is burning,” Macron tweeted when he demanded the G7 take up the issue as a global emergency. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel also will bring it up. Both are center-right politicians. But other summiteers appear not to care and Trump has been silent on the Amazon fires.

Environmental activists in the Amazon city of Porto Velho told The Guardian of fires around the city and that streets were filled with smoke.

“People are scared. The hospitals are full of people with respiratory diseases. In 60 years, this is the first time I feel difficulty breathing,” said Ivaneide Bandeira Cardozo, the coordinator of the environmental organization Kanindé. “It’s a thousand times worse than in other years.”

“Bad farmers think they can commit all kinds of illegality because they will suffer no punishment. It seems Brazil has no law, that all the laws are in tatters.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.