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Putting out the fire

Governors of nine Brazilian states most affected by the record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest have urged their president, Jair Bolsonaro, to accept the $22 million being offered by the seven most advanced economies of the world.

The pledge was made during the G7 summit held in Biarritz, France over the weekend.

But Bolsonaro says he will not accept the help unless the president of one member of the G7—France’s Emmanuel Macron—apologizes for what Bolsonaro says are insult’s to Brazilian sovereignty.

Putting out the fire

Macron has indicated that the fate of the Amazon would be the fate of everybody. Bolsonaro says the French president was treating Brazil as if it were a colony or no man’s land.

There have been 83,000 fires between January 1 and August 27 this year, estimates Brazil’s space agency, as reported by the BBC. The number represents a staggering 77 percent—some estimates peg it to as high as 85 percent—increase from the fires in the same period last year.

BBC analysts also found that this year saw a sharp drop in fines handed out for environmental violations. While fires are common especially during the dry season, which is only beginning in Brazil, there are accusations the President is greatly encouraging illegal logging and mining. Deforestation by farmers, who use slash-and-burn means to set up their farms, is also blamed for the record fires.

The G7’s aid, which will primarily pay for more firefighting planes, will be available immediately. Individual countries, organizations and high-profile individuals have also pledged help.

That the Amazon is burning on an unprecedented scale is in itself a tragedy. It has been called the lungs of the globe, and rightly so. It helps mitigate the climate change by trapping carbon dioxide which will otherwise go to the atmosphere and warm the globe. It provides much-needed oxygen and hosts a wealth of species. So yes, it is Brazil’s, but there are no territorial bounds for the good it does the rest of us.

The spat between Macron and Bolsonaro compounds this tragedy and shows us how misplaced pride can slow down, even sabotage, efforts to contain the burning. In this situation, every hour, every day is precious. Politicians’ egos—whether they claim to be proud nationalists or magnanimous donors and do-gooders—will never be quite so big as the huge and far-reaching challenge that the Amazon fires bring. The emergency is bigger and more profound than all of them, combined.

Topics: Editorial , Amazon rainforest , Brazil , Jair Bolsonaro , G7 summit , Biarritz , France , Emmanuel Macron
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