Brazil’s foreign minister Ernesto Araújo responds to accusations of environmentalists and Emmanuel Macron, which are stirring public opinion around the world that Jair Bolsonaro is failing to tackle the wildfires affecting the Amazon.
According to René Descartes, “common sense is the best-shared thing in the world.” He adds: “It attests to the fact that the power to judge well and distinguish truth from falsehood is what we call common sense.” Of course, it is the same in all men, and diversity of opinions does not come from the fact that some are more reasonable than others, but only that we conduct our thoughts in various ways and do not consider the same things.”
Let us follow the Cartesian lesson and apply it to discussions about Amazonian fires. First of all, keep calm. In an August 23 television address, President Bolsonaro serenely argued to clarify the situation and present the facts as they are. In passing, it is curious to see how, despite its incredible wealth of information, our era is so prone to media distortion that it gives rise to passionate outbursts over completely false data.
Fires in the Brazilian Amazon are a partially natural and partially human phenomenon that occurs every year, especially during the dry season, between June and October. The number of these fires in 2019 (between January 1 and August 23) is 84% higher than in 2018 but 47% lower than in 2005 (in the same period of the year), for example, and in fact very close – a bit smaller – than the average of the last twenty-two years. In Bolivia, the number of fires in 2019 is 115% higher than in 2018, and in Peru, 105% higher.
Meanwhile, the French Guiana experienced a 120% increase in the number of fires detected in 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.
Similarly, in terms of range subject to fire, 2019 numbers in Brazil are higher than in 2018 but lower than the historical average. All these figures are available on the website of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Programa Queimadas).
Naturally, we are worried about this situation, and the current Brazilian government is not sitting back. Unlike the governments between 2003 and 2016, which witnessed much larger fires without doing anything, we are implementing a massive operation mobilizing the Armed Forces and other law enforcement agencies to suppression fires and already beginning to identify some cases of arson.
The situation is serious but remains entirely under control. Some media in Europe depict an environmental nightmare that does not correspond to the facts, distorting the reality under our eyes. To make their case, they are using photographs taken several years ago, while unfortunately ignoring very accurate scientific data provided by satellites of the latest generation.
In the 21st century, we are returning to a kind of “wild thinking” that reacts only to immediate sensory data without reflection, rather than subjecting the data to the cold analysis of reason. In fact, in many respects, the thinking of human groups once considered “savage” is more sophisticated than some of today’s radical ecologists who live in a dark world full of demonic specters and speak a language unable to grasp reality in its full riches. Those formerly called “savages” are well aware that immediate sensations do not exhaust reality; this is not necessarily so with environmentalists.
Curiously enough, modern practitioners of “savage thinking” say they rely on science and accuse their opponents of unscientific obscurantism. But they are the ones who prefer to act based on random imagery and primary stereotypes rather than look at the numbers and study the complexity of the forest fire issue with its multiple causes. This time we should listen to Rabelais: “Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.”
Besides presenting the situation without considering its real proportions to stir animosity, they attributed the fires to actions of the Brazilian government forgetting that the phenomenon is similar to that in Brazil’s neighbors, governed by other authorities. For example, is the rising number of fires in Guyana due to the negligence of the French government? Is France encouraging deforestation in French Guiana? Certainly not. Why, then, treat similar things differently? In short, this is hardly a Cartesian attitude.
The Brazilian government recognizes the problem of fires and is mobilizing all its resources to deal with it. We are also determined to identify the part of fires due to criminal deforestation and to punish the culprits.
President Bolsonaro has confirmed that his zero-crime tolerance policy naturally includes environmental crimes. You need to fight fire with water and crime with law enforcement, rather than aggressively accuse Brazil with obsolete slogans and twenty-year-old pictures.
Returning to Descartes: “Having a good mind is not enough; the main thing is to apply it well.” President Bolsonaro and we, who belong to his government, are applying our thinking and actions to protect the Amazon and fulfill our national and international obligations with three principles: serenity, respect for national sovereignty, and common sense.
Article published in Le Figaro of August 28, 2019.
English translation by the staff of panamazonsynodwatch.com