The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order

The Amazon fires provoked a promising response at the G-7. Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

I didn’t know politics could move this fast. It has been barely a week since the world woke up to reports of fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, and already a new sort of global red line has been established — the first of its kind to be drawn around climate behavior. Led by grandstanding French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of the G-7 have essentially told Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that the burning of the Amazon simply cannot stand.

Bolsonaro is himself a showboat, of course, usually excited by the opportunity to troll the community of globalists and liberal cosmopolitans almost literally embodied in the leaders of the G-7 — and particularly in forums bringing those leaders together as though they are puppet-mastering the rest of the world over a continental breakfast. And yet, over the last few days, Bolsonaro has performed a dramatic about-face, moving from shrugging his shoulders at the fires and blaming them on leftist NGOs, to acknowledging they are a problem and deploying his military to put them out. Presumably, this is not just the result of Macron’s rhetoric — “our house is on fire,” the French leader tweeted late last week — but what followed: a promise to spike a major European trade deal with Brazil if Bolsonaro did not take the fires seriously. In other words, a threat to apply the same tools of leverage and sanction and shame to crimes of climate as have been applied, in the past, to violations of human rights and territorial sovereignty.

This is, of course, unprecedented—and much more significant than the paltry $20 million the nations of the G7 pledged to send to Brazil to help fight the fires. It was also, in a way, inevitable. If climate change does transform life on this planet at anything like the scale and speed scientists promise it will, our politics will change with it — and probably quite dramatically. One question this raises is: In what ways? Another is: Will we like what warming does to us? The answers to both are very much open, and we’ve barely begun to develop a political science around climate change that might help us think through the possibilities.

On Friday, I wrote about the fact that, on the very same day that the Brazilian fires became news in America, the U.S. lost its one candidate for president, Jay Inslee, who was committed to taking climate change as seriously as the world’s scientists insist we all must — and I suggested that action on climate may well require an entirely different kind of politics than one that consigns principled crusaders like Inslee to the bin of also-rans. Less than 24 hours after Inslee dropped out, Bernie Sanders dropped his own climate plan — one much grander than anything even Inslee proposed. If Sanders’s gambit represents one new kind of climate politics, this G-7 climate shaming surely counts as another. But what kind is it?

Saturday at the Atlantic, Franklin Foer proposed that meaningful action to combat warming may require that the bedrock principle of national sovereignty be retired, such that leaders like Bolsonaro (or, for that matter, Trump) won’t be able to operate with impunity on climate issues which, despite playing out within those nations’ borders, impact the rest of the world as well (often more so, since impacts are distributed unequally). “If there were a functioning global community, it would be wrestling with how to more aggressively save the Amazon, and acknowledging that the battle against climate change demands not only new international cooperation but, perhaps, the weakening of traditional concepts of the nation-state,” he wrote. “The case for territorial incursion in the Amazon is far stronger than the justifications for most war.”

Foer was writing before Bolsonaro “capitulated,” but the prospect of climate wars seems even more pressing now. The G-7 shame campaign was only a modest step in that direction — individual nation-states acting in concert, not to undermine the sovereignty of a bad actor but to remind him how dependent his country is on the support of other nations, and to threaten to withdraw that support. But it nevertheless allows you to imagine a possible world, probably at least a few years away, in which a similar group of nations — or a similarly concerned single superpower — does take the next step and threatens military action. That is, of course, what often does follow from a sequence of sanctions, and it is more or less how in the aftermath of World War II the nations of the west “consecrated” the principle of human rights. (That is, by fighting wars in its name, if often for other material reasons). If the 21st century is conducted in the shadow of warming as the second half of the 20th was in the shadow of the Holocaust, that sort of succession — from human rights to climate change as the universal touchstone of geopolitics and speakable expression of great-power rivalry — seems not just possible but inevitable.

So — is that where we are headed? Honestly, I don’t know, and don’t know anyone who does. As with everything else when it comes to climate, we are headed into a brave new world with nothing resembling a playbook. But in their brilliant book Climate Leviathan, the political scientists Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright plot a matrix of possible future political responses to climate. The two axes are the relationship to the nation state (i.e., does the world recognize national sovereignty in the face of climate change?); and the relationship to capitalism (i.e., does the world respond to the crisis by doubling down on the importance of capital, or does it retreat from it?). They name the resulting quadrants: Climate Mao (anti-capitalist and nationalist); Climate Behemoth (capitalist and nationalist), Climate Leviathan (capitalist and globalist) and Climate X (anti-capitalist and globalist, basically ecosocialism, which they’re rooting for). But they also acknowledge that each category is too neat — a conceptual framework, not a map of our future. My own guess is that they’re right: that we won’t have any one new paradigm for climate politics, that no one prediction will come to pass in any total way, but that we will evolve those new politics along many different ideological axes.

What would that mean? That there won’t just be ecofascism of the kind that’s been talked about a lot over the last month — right-wing governments throwing up border walls and defining the needs of their own people, in a resource-scarce world, as infinitely more important than the needs of anyone else. There could also be ecofascism of the environmentalist stripe, governments running roughshod over the rights of their citizens to impose deeply disruptive responses to warming and all its impacts — eminent domain on environmental-panic steroids, decarbonization on a military footing. There will likely be more moderated forms of both — some rise in nativism that doesn’t totally revolutionize existing political cultures, some expansion of government authority that adds to rather than obliterates status-quo powers. There may be some form of ecosocialism and, elsewhere, some rejection of economic growth and an embrace of what’s been called “de-growth.” But on the left, some modulated versions are probably likelier, too: a more empathic and redistributive politics that stops short of true collectivization, for instance, and some growing awareness among left-wing leaders around the world that growth is merely one measure of progress, and perhaps a misleading or counterproductive one. In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Adern is already pointing the way there.

And probably it won’t be any one of these futures but something more like all of them, all at once, in different places at different times — with different nations responding differently to the challenge, even different parts of single nations, with some regions and some parts of government acting from one set of ideological goals while others move in different directions. That is to say, it is likely to be all quite messy, as politics always is, however much we might wish to imagine a single future, or a single climate “solution” — and however much the neoliberal order of the last political generation promised that all plots moved predictably markets-ward.

In a weird way, the G-7 bullying this past weekend extends the same promise — and makes the awakening of climate conscience among the world’s most powerful nations look somewhat less like a radical political departure than the simple extension of existing (and imperiled) neoliberalism into the realm of climate concern. Still, this is progress. In fact, quite significant progress, I think, since market forces remain quite powerful tools, and since we need all the tools we can get in addressing a crisis of this scale. But, of course, it also has some blindspots.

To begin with, the fires, judged on their own, actually aren’t all that significant a climate event. They are bad, since all fires are bad, climate-wise. But the relatively limited aid the G7 will be sending to fight them is a sign that these fires are neither catastrophic in the short term nor hard to control—$20 million being less than one percent the annual budget of CalFire, the California state fire program. Of course, Bolsonaro’s broader plan to develop and deforest the Amazon would be such an outrageous carbon catastrophe — it could release, over a decade, as much carbon as the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, release in a year — that it would represent the enactment of a sort of great-man theory of climate disaster. But the fires burning this month are, as the New York Times has shown, mostly on land that has already been deforested — farmers clearing their land as part of their annual rhythm, if on land that was once rainforest and perhaps in a coordinated way to make an ugly gesture of solidarity with their president and his plan to open up yet more of the land. There are more fires burning today in Congo and Angola than in Brazil, almost none of which are true wildfires, like those we’ve seen devastate California and Siberia, but are controlled and defeatable with a relatively minimal effort.

This all makes the G-7 campaign an important symbolic gesture, but perhaps only that, and one for which the ultimate test is what happens after the fires are put out: Will Bolsonaro’s deforestation plan continue, or not? Or perhaps that is only the penultimate test, since there is also the question of whether pressure like this can be employed by nations like France and Canada and the UK to punch up and not just punch down — to influence the world’s biggest carbon emitters, namely China and the United States.

And if the gesture is mostly symbolic, what is the symbol obscuring? Canada’s Justin Trudeau was the first leader to echo Macron’s call to action, but he recently approved the TransMountain pipeline; Japan is financing coal plants built abroad that are as much as 40 times more polluting than those they allow within their borders. In fact, every single member nation of the G-7 is hiding some significant climate hypocrisy behind their pressure on Bolsonaro, however laudable that pressure is. But if the sum total of their collective action this year will be effectively dispatching the Brazilian military to fight fires local farmers had mostly under control, it will be a critically insufficient response. If their pressure forces Bolsonaro to abandon his plans for the Amazon, that would be considerably better. And yet there is much more to be done still, in each of their home countries, none of which are meeting the pledges they made under the Paris accords just three years ago. To pretend that Bolsonaro is the world’s only climate villain, or the Amazon the only region in the world currently in climate crisis, is an act of grand self-delusion.

Still, the value of symbolism is not to be discarded. For a very long time, climate scientists and activists lamented the disinterest of the average person in the issue, in part blaming the media for failing to communicate the scale of the crisis and the urgency of action. They were right, in a way: climate change simply wasn’t on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post every day, and almost never made it onto television news. On the newspaper side, that has already changed, with quite remarkable speed: It’s not every day yet, but the country’s major papers do now devote enviable acreage to the story, often several times a week and frequently illustrated with dramatic above-the-fold photography. The progress in television has been slower, but here the Amazon fires may mark a different kind of turning point — and a recognition among producers that, while climate change may have a longstanding reputation as a ratings-killer, natural disasters do not, especially those that produce fire. Perhaps the blockbuster wall-to-wall coverage of the recent burning of Notre Dame was good training on this point, too.

This fire season has been an unusually mild one, so far, for California, and we’ve yet to see the major hurricane events that have whipped through the Caribbean each of the past two summers. But the coverage of the Amazon fires suggests that, when those terrifying impacts happen, producers may finally be ready to showcase them in the way they should. It is horrible for anyone living in their path, of course, that disasters are getting more frequent and more punishing. But judged strictly from the semi-sociopathic perspective of journalistic narrative, the climate change story is getting “better.” Rather than relying on dry-sounding predictions of centuries-long sea-level rise measured in the centimeters or inches, natural disasters and extreme weather are teaching us all how to tell stories that horrify us into action, even of an imperfect kind. SOURCE

Our house is on fire


Illustration by Katie O’Rourke

The Amazon provides an astonishing 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen, and gives home to about a million indigenous people and countless irreplaceable ecosystems. These ecosystems absorb millions of tonnes of carbon each year, but by burning and slashing, we release that carbon. With enough dieback and deforestation, we threaten to hit a tipping point where the Amazon becomes a carbon source rather than a carbon sink. If this happens, the consequences for runaway climate breakdown will be unthinkable.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so frightening to see deforestation rates reach an area the size of Manhattan every day, along with a record 72,000 wildfires this year alone – an 84 per cent increase on last year. Some scientists estimate that if we lose another fifth of the Amazon, it will trigger a complete system collapse which no human intervention could stop. When Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said “our house is on fire” in her famous speeches, she probably originally meant it as a metaphor. Now it is actually true.

Because of the lack of media coverage of this brutality, it can be easy to think that the wildfires of the Amazon are just a freak aberration, a natural disaster, or the tragic consequence of an already warming world. Undoubtedly, our climate emergency is fanning the flames, just as it ignites the rising number of wildfires across the planet. But make no mistake about one thing: this is part of a deliberate attempt to destroy the Amazon, by the fascist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

Where most of us see one of the world’s most precious ecosystems, Bolsonaro and his government see an opportunity to make a quick buck. They want to raze the forest as quickly as they can, to open up the space for ‘development’ – which is to say cattle, soy crops and mining. Pleas about the climatic impacts of such a policy will go unheard, because Bolsonaro is also a loud and proud climate denier. He will destroy the whole rainforest without a second thought, and leaked documents secured by democraciaAbierta confirm that this is precisely the plan. If anything is what Polly Higgins had in mind when she was calling for ecocide to be made a crime, it’s this.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon have shown strength, determination and resilience in the face of colonisation and destruction for generations, and they lead the fight against this latest assault today. How best can the international community show our solidarity at such a pivotal time for our planet? I believe Polly’s call to make ecocide a crime in international law is an idea whose time has come – in fact, it’s desperately overdue. Yes, there are some immediate actions Governments could take to protect the Amazon, from blocking the Mercosur trade deal, to imposing sanctions on Brazil. But few actions would be more swiftly effective than the application of an ecocide law. SOURCE

Imagine Jair Bolsonaro Standing Trial for Ecocide at The Hague

A group of activists already has.

A scene from the Amazonas, a state in Brazil, on Sept. 15.
CreditCreditBruno Kelly/Reuters

Since August, as vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest were being reduced to ashes and outrage and calls for action intensified, a group of lawyers and activists who have been advancing a radical idea have seen a silver lining in the unfolding tragedy: One day, a few years from now, they imagined Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, being hauled to The Hague to stand trial for ecocide, a term broadly understood to mean the willful and widespread destruction of the environment, and one that, they hope, will eventually be on par with other crimes against humanity.

There is no international crime today that can be used to neatly hold world leaders or corporate chief executives criminally responsible in peacetime for ecological catastrophes that result in the type of mass displacements and population wipeouts more commonly associated with war crimes. But environmentalists say the world should treat ecocide as a crime against humanity — like genocide — now that the imminent and long-term threats posed by a warming planet are coming into sharper focus.

In Mr. Bolsonaro they have come to see something of an ideal villain tailor-made for a legal test case.

“He has become a poster boy for the need for a crime of ecocide,” said Jojo Mehta, the co-founder of Stop Ecocide, a group that is seeking to give the International Criminal Court in The Hague the jurisdiction to prosecute leaders and businesses that knowingly cause widespread environmental damage. “It’s awful, but at the same time it’s timely.”

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil at an Independence Day parade in Brasilia on Sept. 7.
CreditAdriano Machado/Reuters 

The first prominent call to outlaw ecocide was made in 1972 by Prime Minister Olof Palme of Sweden, who hosted the United Nations’ first major summit on the environment.

In his keynote address at the conference, Mr. Palme argued that the world urgently needed a unified approach to safeguard the environment. “The air we breathe is not the property of any one nation, we share it,” he said. “The big oceans are not divided by national frontiers; they are our common property.” That idea got little traction at the time and Mr. Palme died in 1986 having made little headway in the quest to establish binding principles to protect the environment.

During the 1980s and 1990s, diplomats considered including ecocide as a grave crime as they debated the authorities of the International Criminal Court, which was primarily established to prosecute war crimes. But when the court’s founding document, known as the Rome Statute, went into force in 2002, language that would have criminalized large-scale environmental destruction had been stripped out at the insistence of major oil producing nations.

In 2016, the court’s top prosecutor signaled an interest in prioritizing cases within its jurisdiction that featured the “destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land.”

That move came as activists seeking to criminalize ecocide had been laying the groundwork for a landmark change to the court’s remit. Their plan is to get a state that is party to the Rome Statute — or a coalition of them — to propose an amendment to its charter establishing ecocide as a crime against peace. At least two-thirds of the countries that are signatories to the Rome Statute would have to back the initiative to outlaw ecocide for the court to get an expanded mandate, and even then it would only apply to countries that accept the amendment. Still, it could change the way the world thinks about environmental destruction.
Richard Rogers, a lawyer who specializes in international criminal law and human rights, said that if ecocide campaigners and countries suffering the effects of climate change put forward a narrow definition of the crime, it could quickly garner widespread support. “We’ve seen in the past few years a huge shift in public opinion, and we’re entering a phase where there is going to be huge pressure on governments to do more,” said Mr. Rogers, a partner at Global Diligence, a firm that advises companies and governments on risk mitigation. MORE

Indigenous Tribes on Front Line of Amazon Rainforest Fires Vow to Resist Bolsonaro’s “Destruction of Mother Nature”

“We’re putting our bodies and our lives on the line to try to save our territories.”

Aerial view of a large burned area in the city of Candeiras do Jamari in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. (Photo: Victor Moriyama/Greenpeace)

Indigenous tribes whose land and livelihoods are being directly harmed by the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest vowed Tuesday to do everything in their power to resist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s “destruction of Mother Nature” and called on the rest of the world to join them.

“We’re putting our bodies and our lives on the line to try to save our territories,” Brazilian indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara, who was born in a village in the Amazon rainforest, said in a statement. “We’ve been warning for decades about the violations we have suffered across Brazil.”

“If we don’t stop this destruction of Mother Nature, future generations will live in a completely different world to the one we live in today.” —Huni Kuin tribe

“The predatory behavior of loggers, miners, and ranchers, who have a powerful lobby in the [Brazilian] National Congress with more than 200 deputies under their influence,” said Guajajara, “has been getting much worse under the anti-indigenous government of Jair Bolsonaro, who normalizes, incites, and empowers violence against the environment and against us.”

According to satellite data analyzed by Weather Source, there are over 2,000 fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon. The blazes sparked outrage from world leaders and dire warnings from environmentalists, who say the fires could accelerate the climate crisis by irreversibly damaging the “lungs of the world.”

In a statement, a group of leaders with the indigenous tribe Huni Kuin said the fires are “Mother Nature’s cry, asking us to help her.”

“If we don’t stop this destruction of Mother Nature, future generations will live in a completely different world to the one we live in today,” the tribe said. “And we are working today so that humanity has a future. But if we don’t stop this destruction, we will be the ones that will be extinguished, burned and the sky will descend upon us, which has already begun to happen.”

The Xingu peoples echoed that message in a video posted online Monday. Speaking to the people of the world as the wealthiest nations on the planet gathered in France for the G7 summit, a Xingu representative said indigenous tribes “are going to resist for the forest, for our way of living… for the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Embedded video

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, writing in the Boston Globe Monday, said listening to indigenous peoples and respecting their rights is key to solving the global climate crisis with justice at the forefront.

“Colonialism is setting the world on fire,” wrote Klein. “Taking leadership from the people who have been resisting its violence for centuries, while protecting non-extractive ways of life, is our best hope of putting out the flames.” MORE

G7 can’t turn a blind eye to ecocide in the Amazon

Leaders must ask themselves if Jair Bolsonaro’s destructive attitude to the forest and its peoples should be considered a crime

When G7 leaders sit in judgment on Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro this weekend, the question they should ask themselves is whether the rape of the natural world should finally be treated as a crime. The language of sexual violence will be familiar to the former army captain, who publicly admires the sadistic torturers of the dictatorship era and once said to a congresswoman, “I would never rape you because you are not worth it.” Last month, after Pope Francis and European leaders expressed concern about the Amazon, Bolsonaro lashed back by claiming: “Brazil is a virgin that every foreign pervert desires.”

As a nationalist, the president sees the Amazon in terms of ownership and sovereignty. As a chauvinist, he sees the region as a possession to be exploited and opened up, rather than cherished and nurtured.

Since taking power eight months ago, Bolsonaro has, layer by layer, stripped the rainforest of protections. First, he weakened the environment ministry and put it in the hands of a minister convicted of environmental fraud. Second, he undermined the agency responsible for monitoring the forest, Ibama. Third, he alienated Norway and Germany, the main donors to forest-protection causes. Fourth, he tried to hide what was happening by sacking the head of the space agency responsible for satellite data on destruction. Fifth, he accused environmental charities of starting fires and working for foreign interests. And sixth, he verbally attacked Amazon dwellers – the indigenous and Quilombola communities who depend on a healthy forest.

With these defences down, the president has encouraged outsiders from the mining, logging and farming industries to take advantage of economic opportunities. The results have been brutal. Last month, deforestation surged by 278%. This month is almost certain to be a record for August under the current monitoring system. The wounds are impossible to cover up. The Amazon’s fires are now burning on front pages, news broadcasts and social networks across the world.

This has had a powerful emotional impact. People across the globe now realise the violence is against them because the rainforest is one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks and most important refuge of human, plant and animal diversity.

Bolsonaro is now in the dock of global public opinion and, like a wife-battering husband, he is declaring his devotion and promising to change. In a televised address to the nation on Friday night, the president said he felt “profound love and respect for the Amazon” and promised to send in the army to tackle the fires (though he continues to insist they are overblown).

Turning a blind eye to ecocide is no longer an option. The fires in the Amazon remind us this is not just a crime against nature but a crime against humanity.

MORE

A forest fire extends over farms and forest in Cujubim, Rondônia state, in August 2016. The latest fires are dramatically worse than in previous years. Photo credit: Greenpeace
A forest fire extends over farms and forest in Cujubim, Rondônia state, in August 2016. The latest fires are dramatically worse than in previous years. Photo credit: Greenpeace

An unprecedented number of manmade blazes are raging across the rainforest, blanketing the region in acrid smoke and prompting a state of emergency. Indeed, it’s not only the Amazon, but our entire planet that is in crisis as the devastation of this life-giving biome poses a real, existential threat for all of humanity.

We are witnessing a government that denies its responsibility for this tragedy while it dismantles Brazil’s environmental protections and rejects its duty to uphold human rights. A president so desperate to deflect culpability that he concocts pathetic theories that the very organizations dedicated to defending the rainforest are themselves responsible for this disaster. We are witnessing a perfect storm, with no end in sight.

Amazon Watch is working around the clock to ensure that the world understands both the causes and the solutions to this crisis. These fires were set deliberately and those who are resisting need our urgent support. A global solidarity movement must rise to directly oppose Bolsonaro, and as a solidarity organization Amazon Watch aims to spearhead these critical efforts.

Our recent Complicity in Destruction II report exposes the global corporate financiers of Amazon destruction, but the power to force them to change their actions comes from organizing and raising our collective voice. Today’s massive outcry over the Amazon fires and the outpouring of support toward solutions is magnifying our ability to shift these actors and ultimately the Bolsonaro regime. We will channel this support to our allies on the ground to amplify their messages and their struggles, empowering acts of resistance from all quarters. MORE


The world has the power to make Brazil’s Bolsonaro pay for his destruction of the Amazon
Bolsonaro’s Misogynistic Attack on Brigitte Macron Offers Glimpse Into Psyche of ‘Idiotic Baby Men’
If Carbon Offsets Require Forests to Stay Standing, What Happens When the Amazon Is on Fire?

 

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
London 

 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