If the tens of thousands of fires burning in the Amazon and Trump’s disdain for climate science and environmental regulation were not bad enough in their own right, imagine how bad they could be together?
It’s being reported that Brazil’s environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, will be meeting with representatives of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) at EPA headquarters on Sept-ember 19th. CEI is a leading denialist organization whose director for energy and environment, Myron Ebell, headed-up Trump’s EPA transition team.
CEI and company are increasingly alone in their bald denial of climate science and the impacts of global warming. Even organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce are at least willing to acknowledge that the global climate is changing and that human activities contribute to those changes.
Brazil’s recently elected populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a fan-boy of President Trump. As is his usual practice, Trump embraces anyone who strokes his ego:
I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil. He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!
According to reports, Bolsonaro told his supporters to call him Captain Chainsaw. He also wears with pride the tag Trump of the Tropics.
Taking a page from the Trump playbook, Bolsonaro issued an executive order shortly after taking the oath of office that shifted regulation of new indigenous reserves to the agricultural ministry, which is known to be under the control of agribusinesses. The order made good on his campaign promises to end demarcation of new indigenous lands, reduce the power of environmental agencies and free up mining and commercial farming on indigenous reserves.
The Amazon River Basin is Earth's largest rainforest, which accounts for its being called lungs of the world. It is roughly the size of the lower 48 US states and includes parts of nine South American countries, with 60 percent of it in Brazil. (See Figure 1)
The Amazon is the most biodiverse place on the planet—containing one in 10 of all known species, including 40,000 plant species, 3,000 freshwater fish species, more than 370 types of reptiles, and 427 mammals. Through photosynthesis, the Amazon’s three billion trees help to stabilize climate change by acting as a carbon sink.
At French President Macron’s urging Amazon’s burning was discussed at the recent G-7 summit, after which the leaders of the G-7 offered Bolsonaro $20 million to help fight the fires. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), shows an increase of 85 percent in rainforest fires in Brazil this year.
Bolsonaro refused the help and suggested that the European leaders use the money to tend their own houses—leaving Brazil to do the same. He also took to Facebook with a Trumpesque comment on how much more attractive his wife is than the first lady of France.
I grant that this is a tricky situation. The Brazilian people are as entitled to their sovereignty as we in the US are to ours. Moreover, there’s no argument that much of the climate crisis is the fault of the US, EU countries like Germany and France, along with large developing nations like India and China..
Still, there’s no denying the critical role played by the Amazon in terms of defending against climate change and maintaining species diversity. For the sake of the planet, Brazil needs to control development and resource mining in the Amazon. The world can’t afford much more in the way of fossil fuel emissions.
Trump is in a position to be the environmental hero he thinks he is by brokering a deal between Bolsonaro and the G-7 nations. It is a fair guess that Bolsonaro would be inclined to listen to his hero.
Unfortunately, Trump isn’t inclined to believe the mainstream climate-science community and is himself responsible for throwing open regions of the US for more oil and gas drilling and coal and minerals mining. To say nothing of trying to prop up the coal industry.
In fairness, it should be said that Trump has spoken with Bolsonaro and offered US assistance in fighting the fires. Trump’s offer of assistance seems never to have been followed-up; at least there is no indication that it has.
What seems to have been offered by Trump and company instead are opportunities for senior officials of the Bolsonaro government to sit down with denialist organizations like CEI in the comfortable confines of EPA's Washington offices to bolster their denials that anything is amiss with Earth’s climate.
With Bolsonaro in power, it doesn’t look good for Brazil’s participation with other countries in the fight against Earth’s warming. Bolsonaro has threatened to follow Trump’s lead by pulling Brazil out of the Paris climate accord. Minister Salles, representing the Bolsonaro regime, was booed at last month’s Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week meetings in Salvador, Brazil. His speech was partially drowned out by cries of there’s no planet B, don’t you get tired of your own lies, the Amazon is burning, and a**hole.
Bolsonaro was obviously offended by French President Macron’s offer of $20 million for fighting fires. Perhaps a different sort of arrangement should be offered. What about an agree-ment to compensate Brazil and its population for not developing the Amazon—or at least limiting development to sustainable levels?
Trump’s real estate experience in this regard could prove particularly useful would he be willing to act as Bolsonaro’s agent. Brazil should not be asked to forgo development of the Amazon for nothing. After all, the world is better off when the Amazon’s forests, savannas, and rivers are healthy.
Why not get the developed and large developing nations of the world, e.g., China, India, and Russia, to rent the Amazon? A timeshare approach might be an easier sell to the parties. After all, Brazil wouldn’t be giving up autonomy; it would be leasing its services—which in this case is keeping the Amazon in a sustainable fashion.
The agreement could be renegotiated every five years, and each of the nine Amazon nations could receive a pro-rated share of the proceeds—in addition to the health and economic benefits, e.g., lower incidences of respiratory problems and tourist revenues, they would enjoy.
A deal like this could keep Trump busy on something he seems better suited to do. For that matter, the rental concept is replicable, and he could provide the same service to the govern-ments of eastern European nations like Poland that persist in clinging to a coal economy for as long as they can.
I don’t know how practical an approach this would be. What I do know—based on the facts—is that the Amazon should not be chopped down, burned out, or raped of its natural resources as is happening now. The Amazon’s eco-system cannot be restored once it’s destroyed.
The time to stop further destruction is now before too much more is done. I’m sure the rental checks would clear quickly.
If populist presidents like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Duda cannot be convinced by the scientific evidence to combat the climate crisis, perhaps lucre is the answer. Who better to sell a bill of goods to potential tenants than Trump and company?
Lead image courtesy of The Climate Mobilization.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.