As International outcry at Amazon fires grows, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lashes out and accuses those concerned at stoking anti-Brazilian rhetoric and having a colonial attitude.

The French President tweeted that the fires on the Amazon were an international crisis.

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!” tweeted Mr. Macron.

Merkel backed Macron’s call that the Amazon fires should be dealt with in Biarritz.

“When the G7 comes together this weekend, then the chancellor is convinced that this acute emergency in the Amazon rainforest belongs on the agenda,” Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Angela Merkel, told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday.    

In contrast, the official British reaction has been muted. A British official who was in Brazil to sound out possibilities for a post-Brexit trade deal said that the fires were a matter for the Brazilians.   

Although Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, tweeted that the fires were being “aided and abetted by the Brazilian government”. In what amounted to “an act of shocking environmental vandalism with global consequences”.

The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has also said he is deeply concerned about what is happening in the rain forest.

“In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity,” he said.

Sentimental Colonialists

The intervention from global leaders has sparked a furious response from Bolsonaro and the Brazilian government. Bolsonaro accused the French President of being “sentimental” and “colonialist”.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazonian matters be discussed at the G7 without the involvement of countries of the region recalls the colonialist mindset that is unacceptable in the 21st century,” tweeted the Brazilian President.

Bolsanaro who has called himself Captain Chainsaw and repeatedly mocked environmentalists rowed back on a previous comment where he blamed non-governmental NGOs for starting the fires and claimed he had only been voicing his suspicions.

“Maybe — I am not affirming it — these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters on Wednesday.

He also said that his government doesn’t have the resources to fight the wildfires in the Amazon.

According to Brazil’s Space Research Agency, which monitors what is happening in the Amazon by a network of satellites, the wildfires are an 85% increase over the same period in 2018. More than 9,500 individual fires have been seen by satellites just since last Thursday.

The fires follow a sharp rise in deforestation in July and according to local journalists, farmers are organising fire days to take advantage of weaker environmental enforcement by the authorities to clear land for cattle or crops.  

“It is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans,” said Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.

The fires are so extensive that the city of Sao Paulo, which is 3,300km from the burning areas, has been badly affected by smoke, which is so thick it has blotted out the sun.

Bolsonaro makes no bones about being hell-bent on developing Brazil’s resources, including in previously protected areas, so it can reach its full economic potential. Both Bolsonaro and his Environment Minister Ricardo Salles have the support of the mining and logging lobby and the rural caucus in Congress, which are urging more development in the Amazon, which they argue is overly protected.

Scientists have warned that if the destruction of the Amazon continues unabated, then there is a risk of what was once lush rainforest becoming a much drier savannah, which would have devastating consequences for the world.

Edward Cowley