The Amazon is ablaze. This is horrific news for Brazilians, especially the indigenous peoples who have called the rainforest home for millennia, and for all of humanity as well.
The Amazon rainforest is a crucial carbon sink, absorbing atmospheric carbon that would otherwise heat the planet and accelerate the global climate crisis. Often called “the lungs of the planet,” the Amazon region is also a crucial source of oxygen for all people.
Alarmingly, these fires are no natural disaster. They’re a political disaster—one that’s all too familiar to us here in the United States.
To date, the Amazon has suffered 85 percent more fires this year than last. No natural phenomena can explain this dramatic increase. In fact, most of these fires are intentionally started to clear land for agribusiness.
It’s no coincidence that forest destruction has increased under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who assumed office in January.
Bolsonaro has promised to exploit the Amazon for agribusiness, mining, and other commercial activities. To do so, his administration has undermined laws protecting both forests and the people who live there—and launched openly racist attacks on indigenous peoples to marginalize them.
When confronted with evidence of his own misdeeds, Bolsonaro has done what authoritarians always do—shoot the messenger. He’s called deforestation data from his own government “fake news” and fired the head of the agency that produced it. He is even claiming (without evidence) that the fires were started by NGOs to tarnish Brazil’s reputation.
Here in the United States, the Trump Administration has repeatedly attempted to undermine the science on climate change, spread misinformation about wildfires, and retaliated against government scientists who work on climate change.
Where Bolsonaro deregulates the rainforest, Trump deregulates coal emissions (even as the government’s own analysis shows the extra pollution will kill up to 1,600 people). Where Bolsonaro demonizes NGOs, Trump-allied state governments are criminalizing peaceful protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.
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As in Brazil, the anti-extraction protests being targeted for criminalization in the United States are often indigenous-led. Meanwhile the Trump administration is systematically handing over sacred indigenous lands to oil and gas companies.
And don’t forget about trying to sabotage international climate agreements.
The United States is the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, yet Trump walked away from the Paris climate accord early in his term. Joining us as a climate “rogue state,” Bolsonaro’s Brazil tried to undermine the global climate talks in Poland last December.
You don’t have to take my word on these parallels: Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton has praised Bolsonaro as a “like-minded” partner.
The emergence of dangerous authoritarian governments—here and in Brazil, as well as in countries like India and the Philippines—is one of the gravest threats facing the world today. Not only because of the threats they pose to human rights and democracy, but because their political agendas deepens the climate crisis.
Transforming this reality must start by acknowledging it. The Amazon is already burning—now we need the movements against these governments to catch fire, too.