The Amazon on Fire: Daily PlanetWatch for Wednesday, August 21

Thomas Schueneman

Thinking about the latest environmental news headlines every weekday afternoon from the Daily PlanetWatch. Today's riff is on the burning of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro, and my beef with beef.
  • The Amazon is on fire. You may notice a trending theme lately here at the Daily PlanetWatch: fire. The fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest are only now breaking into public awareness. Nonetheless, since January there have been nearly 75,000 wildfires recorded in the Amazon. 9,500 of those fires have started since last Thursday.

    Smoke covers half of Brazil. The Brazilian state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency on August 9th. It's out of control.

    But, unlike fire in other parts of the world, the conflagration isn't exactly wildfire, unless we include in its definition of the desperate actions of men in power.
    These fires are set. They are no accident, not an act of nature.

    Recently elected far-right president Jair Bolsonaro makes no secret of his contempt for a collaborative, international framework to conserve and sustainably manage the Amazon rainforest.

    Nor is he much into protecting it at all.

    There's money to be made in the Amazon, but only when you burn down the trees. So says the president of Brazil. The Trump of the Tropics.

    While Bolsonaro claims the sovereign right of Brazil to do with the Amazon rainforest as it (he) sees fit. Sovereignty is tricking in a global economy pushing straight up the bell curve, over the top, and down into a new steady state.

    A new normal

    Bolsonaro may wish the trees back if the international market for beef suddenly collapsed, as it eventually will as all markets shrink in the tightening noose of environmental collapse.

    No matter the consequences for his country and planet (for which Bolsonaro does not care), there is short-term profit to be made in the felled trees and the cleared land.

    What's for dinner?

    Like other examples we've considered, beef consumption in the developed world - especially the US - highlights a problem of moderation. As individuals, we all have challenges moderating certain behaviors, whether it be eating too many sweets or something more sinister, these behaviors aggregate into societal impacts. Maybe eating beef as well?

    People have a right to eat a steak if they want.

    With that right comes the responsibility of mild awareness. A vague notion, at least, of the supply chain the landed a slab of meat on your plate (or any other product, on your plate or elsewhere). An idea of what is done in the name of tonight's selections; and willingness to use your power as a consumer to let producers know if you're not comfortable with any of it.

    Or maybe any "responsibility" ends after you've handed over a $20 bill for a few pounds of beef.

    I guess it depends on how long you want to keep eating beef. 

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