We did start the fire

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on August 28, 2019

The time to adopt a green policy is running out

It took 16-odd days for the raging fire in the Amazon rainforest to make it to international headlines. While newsfeeds were engaged with the economic tit-for-tat between the US and China and the repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir, the “world’s lungs” were on fire.

It took an ‘SOS’ from celebrities like green-campaigner and Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio before the world powers eventually voiced the need to protect the world’s most biodiverse forest. Ahead of the G7 meet at Biarritz, France’s President Emmanuel Macron called for action on the Amazon fire and the leaders of several other countries expressed their concern on trade with Brazil, against the backdrop of this environmental crisis. The international and economic pressure saw Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro committing to send the army to douse the fire.

But it’s Bolsonaro’s initial reactions that are worrisome. Countries pressing for action to tackle the Amazon fire were criticised by him for using the environment to stall development and meddle in internal affairs.

Unfortunately, though the environment is inextricably linked with politics and economics, it still needs to be protected from becoming a casualty in a cross-fire that leaves no winners. India too, has in the past expressed similar denials in the face of criticism on environmental pollution. The “foreign hand” is accused of wanting to destabilise economic growth. While that can be investigated as a law and order issue, the core concern should not be lost.

In the Amazon fire, what Brazil and indeed humanity stand to lose is irreplaceable. The world’s largest rainforest region is home to 10 per cent of all plant and animal species known on Earth — approximately 40,000 species of plants, more than 400 mammals, the count of birds almost 1,300 and the number of insects in millions, says Greenpeace.

“There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The rainforests, which contain 90-140 billion metric tonnes of carbon, help stabilise local and global climate. Deforestation may release significant amounts of this carbon, which could have catastrophic consequences around the world,”says the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). And the unfortunate truth is, fires in this region have increased by 84 per cent over the last year, say reports quoting the National Institute for Space Research.

While pointing to the motives behind international criticism on its environmental disaster, Brazil is missing the wood for its trees — it is losing its own wealth.

In fact, countries with abundant natural resources like Brazil, India and China should lead the way in sustainable development and not destroy their natural wealth. They need to learn from mistakes made by other countries instead of repeating them, and following the same destructive path to economic growth.

In recent years, India has witnessed devastating floods, landslides and fires due to deforestation, sand-mining and other means of unplanned growth that erodes forests, mangroves and hills, pollutes rivers and destroys wildlife.

But individuals can change that, by making sustainable choices in their life and opting for sustainably sourced products. The WWF says our need for paper, rubber, timber, soyabean, palm oil etc, is causing forests to be cleared at the rate of 27 soccer fields per minute. Consumers need to push for products to bear labels that certify they have been sourced sustainably, support companies that do this and force politicians to be the change and bring in pro-green policies. Or else, future generations may well say, to misquote a Billy Joel song: “We did start the fire”.

Published on August 28, 2019

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