Amazon fires: why ecocide must be recognised as an international crime

Simon Surtees says the burning Brazilian forest is redolent of the plot of Lord of the Flies; Stefan Simanowitz writes that it’s time ecocide joined genocide as a named crime.

Eliane Brum’s passionate attack on the Amazon clearances is well made (In the burning Amazon, all our futures are now at stake, 23 August). In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the war between Ralph and Jack leads to the burning of the jungle. The boys are rescued by a naval crew attracted by the smoke and flames. But it is worth noting that Golding had to be persuaded by his editor to change the ending, which was considered a bit bleak for the 1950s, when it was written. He would have been quite happy for readers to take in the consequences of their selfishness and stupidity; the destruction of the place where they live. How he must be chuckling now.
Simon Surtees

 In 1944, Winston Churchill described German atrocities in Russia as “a crime without a name”. Later that year, the term “genocide” was coined. Today the Amazon rainforest – the lungs of the world – is ablaze, with thousands of fires deliberately lit by land-grabbers keen to clear the forest for logging, farming and mining. This destruction, which has increased massively since Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s deregulated deforestation, threatens an area that is home to about 3 million species of plants and animals and 1 million indigenous people.

In order to stop such wanton destruction in Brazil and around the world, it is surely time to recognise ecocide – destruction of the environment or ecosystem – as an international crime. It should not be necessary to name something for it to become real but, as with genocide, a word can help encompass the enormity of a horror that might otherwise be too great to imagine.

Stefan Simanowitz
London  SOURCE


Brazil’s Amazon fires highlight threat of deregulation amid climate change

natural-color image, smoke, fires, Brazil, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, NOAA, NASA, Suomi NPP, VIIRS, Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite,
This natural-color image of smoke and fires in several states within Brazil including Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia was collected by NOAA/NASA’s Suomi NPP using the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on Aug. 20, 2019.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took power this year promising to open the Amazon rainforest to industry, roll back environmental and indigenous protections and stack his Cabinet with ideologues who dismiss climate change as a Marxist hoax.

But the record wildfires now raging in the Amazon offer a terrifying rebuke and serve as a stark reminder of what’s at stake as Bolsonaro’s policies allow ranchers, loggers and miners to destroy the world’s largest forest and repository of carbon dioxide at an unprecedented pace.

The blaze this week produced apocalyptic images as smoke billowed more than 1,800 miles southeast to blacken the daytime sky over São Paulo, the Western hemisphere’s biggest city. Video of an indigenous Pataxó woman shouting as orange flames engulfed her tribe’s reservation in Minas Gerais went viral.

It was only the latest of what new research this week found to be a record year for wildfires in the Amazon. Satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, or INPE, showed an 84% increase over the same period last year.

The disaster eerily paralleled the historic storms and wildfires that rocked the United States in 2017, just as President Donald Trump ― to whom Bolsonaro is often compared ― began his assault on environmental regulations and announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accords.

Fires are common in the Amazon during the region’s dry season, but this year has not been drier or windier than normal, experts have said, meaning many of the outbreaks have likely come from ranchers and farmers. And many environmental advocates have pointed to rapid destruction of the forest as the driver in the spread of the flames.

“It’s not a revenge of nature; it’s something very, very human,” said Nurit Bensusan, a top official at the Instituto Socioambiental, a Brasília-based nonprofit that advocates for conservation and indigenous rights. “It’s a sign of worse things to come.”

The fires come after INPE data detected an 88% uptick in deforestation in June compared with the same month a year earlier. It’s a remarkable reversal. In the late 2000s, Brazil ramped up environmental enforcement and dramatically reduced deforestation as its economy grew by roughly 8% per year. But as economic growth slowed, the acreage of Amazon cleared each year increased, particularly after center-right President Michel Temer took power in 2016. MORE

Greens and NDP Say Electoral Reform Isn’t Dead

Parties and advocates share their roadmaps for a system change in the future.

On electoral reform, the NDP and Greens are here to tell Trudeau: it’s not over. Photo of Jagmeet Singh from Flickr via Canada’s NDP. Photo of Elizabeth May via The Tyee. Photo of Justin Trudeau from Shutterstock.

In fall 2016, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and her colleagues on the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform spent weeks crisscrossing the country to canvass Canadians’ opinions on changing the way they choose their Members of Parliament.

“We heard from hundreds of thousands of Canadians that they wanted proportional representation,” said May in a recent interview.

In its December 2016 report to Parliament, the committee recommended PR as a replacement for the first-past-the-post system the Liberals promised to end during the 2015 federal election campaign.

However, two months after the report was released, the Trudeau government declared electoral reform dead.

For May, though, the issue is very much alive. She plans to promote proportional representation in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 21 federal election and hopes for a minority government that would advance the issue in the next Parliament.

“In an era where so-called populists like Donald Trump or Doug Ford can get to power, it’s incredibly important that we ensure that no one can get power in Canada with less than the majority of the popular vote yet have 100 per cent of the power,” said May. “We must prevent that from ever happening by getting rid of first-past-the-post now, because it is the only election system, other than preferential voting, that allows that kind of distortion to happen when a party with a minority public support can gain a false majority.”

May said that as part of its 2019 federal election campaign platform the Greens will call for the creation of a national citizens’ assembly to determine the best alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

Fifteen years ago, a similar body in B.C. recommended a single transferable vote system, which received the support of 58 per cent of British Columbians in a 2005 referendum — not enough to meet the 60-per-cent threshold established by the provincial government. A second referendum, held in 2009, essentially reversed the results, with 61 per cent of the province’s residents voting against changing their first-past-the-post electoral system.

“One of the reasons it was so well-received in 2005 was not that every British Columbia voter really felt confident that they understood exactly how a single transferable voting system would work, but that they felt a lot of trust and confidence that the recommendation wasn’t coming from people within political parties that had self-interest at stake but from average voters on a citizens’ assembly,” explained May, the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

May also believes the Liberals’ about-face on electoral reform will hurt them in October.

“A lot of people voted Liberal because they believed Justin Trudeau when he said 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post — and I will count myself among those people who believed him,” she said.

If the election results in a minority government, May plans to raise proportional representation as part of the conditions to support either a Liberal or Conservative government.

“We need to make sure that we get rid of first-past-the-post, whether it’s mixed-member proportional or single transferable vote or the rural-urban option that was included in last year’s referendum in B.C. or any other mathematical formulas described as consensus-based systems — and have voting that’s fair,” she explained.

“It’s clear that the system we have now is the worst.”

“Not only do consensus-based systems have higher voter turnout and more women elected, but they also have stronger environmental regulations and better economic performance,” said the Green leader, who added that during her recent Community Matters Tour, in which she held 33 town hall meetings in every province and the Northwest Territories, at least one question regarding PR was raised.

The NDP also supports proportional representation, but the party takes a slightly different approach.

As part of their 2019 election campaign platform, the New Democrats say that if they form the next federal government they will introduce a mixed-member proportional system and establish a citizens’ assembly to determine how it would work for the following election, which would presumably be held in 2023.

A national referendum would be held after that election to allow Canadians to decide if they like the new system or whether they would prefer to return to first-past-the-post. (An NDP government would also lower the voting age to 16.) MORE

Doug Ford might not go through with his carbon tax court challenge after all

Issue will be decided at the ballot box, not in court, Ontario premier says

Ontario Premier Doug Ford raised the possibility Friday that he might abandon the province’s legal case against the carbon tax. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Premier Doug Ford says the fate of Ontario’s carbon tax court challenge will be decided after the federal election, raising the possibility that his government could end up abandoning the case.

When asked Friday what he would do if federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer loses the election and a pro-carbon tax party — such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — wins, the premier said he would have to reassess Ontario’s position.

“We’ll sit down and consult with the attorney general … We’ll be consulting with the cabinet and then we’ll move forward from there,” he said

Voters, Ford said, would have the ultimate say.

“This carbon tax, it’s not going to be the courts that are going to decide. The people are going to decide when the election is held,” he said. “Once the people decide, I believe in democracy, I respect democracy, we move on. The people will have the opportunity, not the courts.”

Lost case in Ontario’s top court

Ford’s Progressive Conservative government lost its case against the federal carbon price at the province’s top court in June and said it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Ford’s spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said Friday the government believes the carbon tax is a “cash grab under the guise of environmental policy” and will do everything it can to fight it.

Other provinces, including Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, are also challenging the carbon price in court.

If Premier Ford wants to stop wasting our tax money … he should cut his losses and do it now.— Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada

A spokesman for Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Friday that the province’s legal action will continue, regardless of the outcome of the Oct, 21 election.  MORE


Ford to decide on carbon tax court challenge after federal election
Doug Ford says he’ll reconsider carbon tax challenge if federal Conservatives lose election

Think lowering the voting age from 18 to eight is crazy?

You’re probably not alone.

But know what’s even crazier?

Not doing what we know we need to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit average global warming to 1.5 C, when hundreds of the world’s leading scientists have told us we have about a decade to turn things around.

Kids know we have just one shot, that there is no planet B. But too often, it seems adults vote with other considerations top of mind — or don’t vote at all.

What if we lowered the voting age from 18 to eight?

To be clear, this isn’t about actually lowering the voting age. It’s a tongue-in-cheek campaign, designed to help people recognize the wisdom in respecting — and listening to — their youngers. (Kids know to vote with climate as top priority, so why don’t we give them the ballot?)

Thanks for sharing and talking about the 18to8 campaign. Here’s to a future when children and adults share a vision for a safe, healthy and interconnected natural world for all beings.


The Amazon Is Dying and Bolsonaro Is Fanning the Flames

This is why we need an Ecocide Law

The darkened sky in Sao Paulo, Brazil is picture on August 19, 2019. Residents reported black rain, while studies by two universities confirmed that the rainwater contains fire residues.
The darkened sky in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is pictured on August 19, 2019. Residents reported black rain, while studies by two universities confirmed that the rainwater contains fire residue.ANDRE LUCAS / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest on planet Earth. Generating half its own rainfall and holding 20 percent of all the world’s rivers within its borders, it covers an area two-thirds the size of the contiguous 48 United States, and produces 20 percent of the oxygen in the world’s atmosphere.

There are more than 1,100 tributaries of the Amazon River alone, with seventeen of them longer than one thousand miles. The rainforest also creates “flying rivers,” — massive streams of airborne moisture that develop above the canopy and move with the clouds and rainfall patterns across the entire continent of South America.

Many scientists believe the Amazon is the most important source of biodiversity on the planet, and statistics back that up. It contains thousands of species of birds and trees, an estimated 2.5 million species of insects, and at least 3,000 species of fish in the Rio Negro alone, with new species being discovered all the time. A new species is discovered, on average, every other day.

And now, the Amazon is on fire. Wildfires are incinerating the rainforest at a record pace, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE as it is commonly referenced). INPE recently stated that there has been an 80 percent increase in wildfires in the Amazon, compared to the same period from last year.

Smoke from the burning rainforest has blotted out the sky over Sao Paulo, a city more than 1,700 miles from the fires, while satellite imagery shows smoke from the fires having spread all the way to the Atlantic coast, covering half of Brazil, and even covering parts of Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Crossing Thresholds

Thomas Lovejoy has worked in Brazil’s Amazon since 1965, but he is the first to say that “we’ve barely scratched the surface” in terms of our understanding of that rainforest, as he told Truthout during an interview in 2017. He was director of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S. for 14 years, and has been given the nickname “the godfather of biodiversity,” having coined the term “biodiversity” himself. One of his reports, alone, led to more than half of the Amazon rainforest being put under protection.

During our interview, Lovejoy gave dire warnings of things to come, including the heartbreaking wildfires we are seeing now….

Bolsonaro: The Tropical Trump

According to INPE, deforestation across the Amazon had already accelerated by 60 percent in June, compared to the same time period last year, as radical right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s horrific environmental policies began to take effect.

Last month, Greenpeace labeled Bolsonaro and his right-wing government a “threat to climate equilibrium,” while the World Wildlife Fund, like many scientists, has warned that if the Amazon reaches a tipping point, it could become a dry savannah and will no longer be capable of supporting much of the wildlife that exists there today.

Instead of sequestering carbon and generating water and rainfall, the Amazon will instead become a net emitter of carbon, and the planet will lose most of its oxygen-producing function. Meanwhile, the loss of the Amazon’s biodiversity will be beyond devastating for the planet. MORE


Bolsonaro expresses ‘love’ for Amazon as it burns, offers no policy shift