The fires in the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil could not have been more superbly timed: they burned opportunely at the time of the G7 summit of developed nations in Biarritz, France, and its internationalist, anti-sovereign solutions. The media hype surrounding the scenes of desolation also comes less than two months before the Synod on Amazonia called for by Pope Francis. And we now know that in Rome in October, fascination with the indigenous way of life — tribalism, socialism, and “traditional” religious rites — will be expressed while calls will be made for its international protection.
Is this a textbook case of mind control?
Users of the media cannot have missed the eerie superlatives on news shows or on the Twitter and Instagram accounts of celebrities. Even (or should we say “especially”) French president Emmanuel Macron, a would-be Superman and defender of the planet, made a number of catastrophic predictions. The “lung of the world” is burning, he proclaimed, adding that the Amazonian rainforests account for “20 percent” of the Earth’s oxygen.
The future wrought by the Amazon fires is clear, if this rhetoric is to be believed: the Earth is being collectively suffocated, and the desolation of a field of ruins awaits us. The most anxious among humankind already feel as though they are running out of air.
The great culprit is to our right: Jair Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian president whom the international community does not hesitate to blame for a situation with supposedly global consequences. He — a right-wing, Christian leader — is the bad guy: has he not relaxed environmental rules and promoted the deforestation that is burning the primordial forest for the benefit of big business? Has he not encouraged unscrupulous farmers to destroy the precious tropical fauna and vegetation in order to plant palm trees and soybeans for exportation, as Brazil slowly transforms into one of the top global agricultural producers?
Clearly, we have here a dialectical exploitation of the facts: a whole new version of the class struggle, where big owners eager for profit attack the oppressed — the oppressed of the day being precisely the Amazonian forest, now promoted to the rank of the Earth’s nurturing mother.
It is referred to as “our home” in order to better involve each and everyone. By this manipulation, the aim is to “extinguish” those who are contemptuously referred to as the right-wing populists: Bolsonaro, already named, but also the climate skeptic Donald Trump and a few others.
The ideological fire hose is over-selective. One can only wonder why there is not a great movement to denounce the political leaders of sub-Saharan Africa, where seasonal fires are causing as much, if not more, damage right now than in Brazil. As RTBF.be, the Belgian institutional radio and television station, recently remarked, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, and the Congo are heavily affected, and even the local African press does not report it. “Quite simply because it is a common, regular phenomenon,” even if it is always “worrying,” commented RTBF, explaining that it is the phenomenon of slash-and-burn farming, practiced by local farmers who fertilize their soils by voluntarily burning cut wood, that accounts for many fires in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the same article, dated 24 August, the European Space Agency (ESA) “estimates that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s burnt area, according to global satellite databases[.]”
And who is even thinking of blaming Vladimir Putin, who received a cordial welcome from Emmanuel Macron before and through the G7 meeting, when the Siberian tundra was also hit by great fires at the beginning of August?
A look a little farther west from Brazil, toward Bolivia — which includes a large part of the Amazonian forest — is enough to better understand how the disinformation mechanism works. The volume of fires there is significantly higher than last year, and 800,000 hectares of the Chiquitano “Model Forest” went up in smoke between August 18 and 23. But the international media do not blame President Evo Morales. This indigenous, socialist, and environmentalist left-wing president is a good man. Whatever he does.
Yet it was Evo Morales who encouraged local farmers, often indigenous people from his electoral constituency, to burn wood in the rainforest to make charcoal for resale or to conserve arable land. He also refused international assistance to fight the forest fires. The situation was generally much more serious than in neighboring Brazil, it seems. But no threats regarding trade relations with Bolivia were made, even as the French president was invoking the fires in Brazil to put a stop to Mercosur negotiations.
Where was the bashing of Evo Morales by international political media? Or calls to stop all international aid (an idea of U.S. Democratic senator Brian Schatz for Brazil) until a policy change would take place?
No: “Populists” (or those dubbed as such by the media) and sovereignists are the true target. Interestingly, the subject of global forest fires is making headlines this year even though it should in fact, all things being equal, come to the forefront of the media scene every year.
We are told that this year’s fires are exceptional. Not so much: Macron’s apocalyptic tweets included a photo that dates back nearly twenty years, signed Loren McIntyre — who died in 2003. Other clichés “shared” by celebrities come from Peru, where the fire front is currently calm. Madonna, according to Agence France-Presse, has published an image of a forest on fire dating back to…1989.
The same AFP debunked several other photos that were shared thousands of times to call attention to the Amazon fires: other times, other catastrophes, other places were being used to feed the big scare.
The truth is that fires are partly a natural phenomenon — in the dry season, they are lit by electrical storms — partly deliberate, in order to recover land for planting or fertilizing; and partly criminal.
The media were not quick to report, for example, that the fire episode in the Amazon was about average compared with the last twenty years. There were peaks in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia but rather low activity in Mato Grosso and Pará.
These are data published by NASA, based on satellite images that everyone can consult online.
Nor is it reported that deforestation remains at a low average level, compared to data from 1990 to 2008, and that it tends to decline as per capita incomes increase — a phenomenon that has been widely observed in Brazil since 2004.
Nor will the mainstream media talk about the ambiguity of the words “Amazon fires.” The Amazon rainforest is shared by nine countries. Surely, Brazil accounts for the larger part — 60.8 percent — but many of the present fires were burning in French Guiana, in Bolivia, and elsewhere. So why would Bolsonaro be the only culprit?
Also, the “legal” region of Amazonas in Brazil is much larger than the Amazonian rainforest. Many of the fires are actually burning in agricultural regions or the dry “cerrado” regions, which have nothing to do with the tropical biosphere, observed Xico Graziano, a Brazilian agricultural engineer, in a recent article. They are regions where agriculture is naturally present. Of the rainforest properly speaking, he wrote, it is estimated that about 95 percent is untouched by deforestation.
This does not mean that there has been no criminal arson in Brazil, but the instigators of these fires risk heavy sanctions, and they are not all “evil capitalists.” While illegal deforestation due to large industrialists does occur, local landowners who benefited from agrarian reform, private owners, and indigenous tribes also account for legal or illegal tree-felling. Less than 12 percent of deforestation touches protected areas, Graziano also remarked.
This is the more remarkable since Brazilian preservation laws are among the most severe on the planet: according to the regions where they own their land, owners are not allowed to exploit anywhere between 20 and even 80 percent of their property. This “legal reserve” of 80 percent is precisely in Amazônia, remarks Denis Lerrer Rosenfield, showing that this restriction on personal property rights would be unheard of anywhere else on Earth.
As for the myth of the “20 percent” of oxygen produced by the Amazonian forest, it exploded in mid-air. The oceans are the largest absorbers of CO2 and produce the most oxygen and as such could claim to be the “lungs of the planet.” Young, growing forests are also excellent producers — unlike the ancient Amazon jungle, which by definition is not maintenanced as are, for instance, European forests and woods. Deforestation produces carbon dioxide, but so does decomposing matter, such as old and dying trees, at the same time as photosynthesis releases oxygen, so even there, the balance can be negative.
It was the Huffington Post that published an interview with a French academic specialized in all things Amazonian, Alain Pavé. To say that the Amazonian rainforest produces “20 percent” of the Earth’s oxygen is “very, very optimistic,” he told the media. It would account “at the most” for a few percent, but even that is difficult to assert, given the many variables we ignore.
“Despite a major effort over a long period of time, data for the Amazon are still fragmentary and imprecise. The forest is not just a collection of trees, it is an ecosystem with other plants, animals, micro-organisms, irrigated by a hydrological system, with multiple interactions. Beware of simplistic messages and detailed descriptions that are more poetic than scientific,” he said.
But anything is good enough to maintain the great climate scare.
Colonel Gregory Allione, president of the National Federation of Firefighters in France, went on record on France Info radio, saying: “We have not seen this in the entire history of human beings on this planet.” He demanded “coordination, anticipation and a global approach on the part of all countries” to react to the situation in Brazil. Is this all a necessary step to bring Brazilian sovereign territory under international, even U.N., control?
Emmanuel Macron used the same logic when he stated that we must “find a form of good governance.” “We need to involve NGOs, indigenous peoples much more than we do. And the process of industrialized deforestation must be stopped,” he added on the Élysée site.
This “involvement of indigenous peoples” is all the rage. It’s what a large part of the upcoming Amazon Synod is all about. It seems the Catholic Church is not alone in its strange endeavors; the internationalist community is on the same line.
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