Who Set the Amazon Rain Forest on Fire? We did!

Yesterday, I wrote a piece which has since been published in various places in which I compared the 1,330 square miles of the Amazon River Basin that has been put to the match this year with a similar amount of acreage in and around New York City to put the problem in perspective.

Then, I thought about it a little more and started to see the error in my thinking, realizing that we, ourselves, put the Amazon to the match.

Well, no, not exactly. None of us flew down to Brazil and took a boat upriver to the head of the Amazon River just to pour gasoline on the forest and throw a match into the gasoline. No, we didn’t do that. We just created the market that Brazilian farmers are trying to exploit.

Directly or indirectly, by hook or by crook, we have been importing food products from South America that are either (1) sourced from plants and animals that are not viable in the United States, (2) are more cheaply produced and shipped to the United States than we can produce the same products locally, or (3) that are simply out of season in the United States.

This has created a market throughout South American for food export items. Chilean sea bass. Mexican avocados. Beef from Argentina. Peruvian grapes (which are out of this world, by the way,) coffee from Columbia (of course,) dragon fruit from wherever Dragon fruit comes from….the list goes on and on and on.

I’m not alone in rethinking my thoughts about the Amazon River Basin fires. After helping to raise the alarm, the editors at The New York Times also re-thought the story and published a piece yesterday that reviews the “crisis” from the Brazilian point of view.

Brazil wants a bigger share of that food export market…and they would like to feed themselves as well. Therefore, Brazil’s farmers need to clear more land to raise more crops (I forgot bananas) in order to maintain the economic viability of their farms while country bolsters its own economic viability.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was deeply insulted by the $22 million that the G7 countries offered to help fight the Amazon Rain Forest fires, but not for the obvious reason. Brazil doesn’t need the G7’s money to fight those fires because Brazil doesn’t want to fight the fires. The Brazilian people who live in that region are deliberately set those fires because that’s the easiest and cheapest way to clear the forest lands for cultivation.

Every ecological thought leader on the planet is up in arms over the fires. Don’t the Brazilians know that their Rain Forests produce 20 percent of the oxygen this planet needs to remain viable? How dare they set fire to what must be regarded as a global resource?

One wonders what would happen if the Brazilians burned down the entire Amazon basin?

Well, for one thing, the Brazilians wouldn’t have to worry about clearing more land for agriculture anymore, because everyone on the planet would be dead.

Actually, that wouldn’t exactly happen overnight. There are stop-gap measures that could be employed to offset some of the O2 deficiencies. In addition, the Brazilians aren’t planning to burn down the forests and walk away from the freshly cleared lands (and, by the way, the burning of the forests actually enriches the soil in the process, so it isn’t entirely a bad thing.) On the contrary, they are going to put those lands into crop production, which will also offset some of the O2 deficiency created by the burn-down.

However, the G7 and many of the people who are aghast at the burning of the Amazon, don’t get this essential economic fact: The Amazon Rain Forests are a beautiful ecologist’s paradise with plant and animal and bird life found nowhere else on Earth. (One mourns the rare orchids and the birds of Paradise.) However, the Rain Forests don’t generate any income for Brazil’s financially strapped farmers, nor does it fortify the country’s trade balance with the United States, which averages around $28 billion a year in their favor. Unfortunately for Brazil, that number has been shrinking. steadily in recent years. With the current trade war orgasms going on in Washington, the only really safe export goods that are probably safe from tariffs will be food products.

Americans — and Europeans and Asians — seem to forget that Brazil in the 9th largest economy in the world, and the second-largest in the Western Hemisphere after the United States, with a gross domestic product of $1.868 trillion (USD), and a very substantial military, but only ranks 73rd on the basis of per capita GDP. In short, Brazil is actually an economic powerhouse in its own right and not a country to be pushed around by the G7 or anyone else.

All of this leaves Brazil in the bizarre position of being castigated by First World nations for doing what all nations do and trying to make the best use of their natural resources to feed their own people and keep their nation solvent. Perhaps they are justified if they felt insulted by the offer.

If the so-called developed world is really so concerned about the Amazon Rain Forests, why don’t we take a page from Donald Trump’s playbook and, instead of trying to buy Greenland, which is really pretty useless except to the people who live there, buy the Amazon Rain Forests from Brazil?

Oh, sure, it’s going to cost a LOT MORE MONEY than the $22 million the G7 offered Brazil, like maybe a hundred times as much….but what’s it worth to you to be able to keep breathing?

We have to be reasonable about this. If Brazil has a trade surplus with the United States of around $28 billion, it would probably cost us ten times that much to buy the right to keep the trees in the Amazon Rain Forest. Figure a nice round figure of $280 billion as an initial offer.

In other words, if we are worried about the future of the Rain Forest, we should do exactly what we have been doing in the United States for many years, paying farmers to keep the lands out of production in order to keep commodity priced stable.

In this case, however, we would be paying for Oxygen. Yes, it has come to that. If we want to keep breathing, we are going to have to start paying for the air we breathe. Actually, we have already been doing that for many years, without realizing it. Every law designed to reduce pollution, every additive used to cut down on smog was a fee paid to keep our air relatively breathable.

You know this could be an opportunity for the members of the U.S. Business Roundtable to put their money where their mouth was last week, and put up the money to buy (or, more likely, lease) the Rain Forests in order to keep them safe from farming.

Perhaps some enterprising individual could set up a “buy a tree program” similar to the “Plant a Tree” program that the Israelis used to get American school children (and not just the Jewish ones) to pay a dollar to plant a tree in Israel. Maybe there’s some big shot actor or actress who would like to lend his or her name to the project, you know, to legitimize it. (Hmmm. Maybe I should do that myself, running the thing, not legitimizing it.)

While you are at it, also consider this: Until the new administration moved into the Brazilian government, the previous administrations were keeping the utilization of the Amazon Rain Forests at a 60/40% utilization, with sixty percent of the Rain Forests being in their original pristine condition, while forty percent was being put into cultivation. The Brazilians who live in the Amazon River Basin want to renegotiate that equation, keeping forty percent in the forest and putting sixty percent under the plow.

Look, the Brazilians aren’t stupid. They want to keep breathing too.

Alan is a poet, journalist, short story writer, editor, website developer, and political activist. He is the executive editor of BindleSnitch.com.

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