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MLA Full: "The Amazon isn't 'Burning' - It's Being Burned." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 23 August 2019,
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This is a thing that is happening right now, and (taking a page from the global warming playbook) a think I've been hearing from Bolsonaro's supporters is, "Who even knows how bad it is...deforestation is actually down."

It's so sad to watch us play with words and numbers when the reality is obvious to anyone with eyes. "Deforestation" is down because when you don't count burning, and we don't know how much land has been burned because it's still burning and determining the extent of a forest fire is extremely labor intensive. It takes time to do these surveys. But what we do know for sure is that the number of fires is up all over the Amazon.

And we also know that Bolsonaro's government had decreased inspections dramatically, put military officials in charge of environmental organizations, and fired every scientist who publicly disagrees with him.

There has never been a greater reminder that nationalism is a disaster of an ideology, and that how we imagine the world and who we end up voting for matters. A lot.


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Good morning John,

So I’ve seen a bunch tweets over the last few days that made me pretty angry which, you know, makes it exactly like every other few days in the last few years but in this specific case, it was tweets like these: “The amazon rainforest is seeing a record number of wildfires.”, “Large swathes of the Amazon rainforest are burning.”, “Fires are raging.”, “The Amazon region is burning!”.

Now mostly, this comes down to a problem I have with reality which is that there’s just too much of it and thus it is very hard to be aware of all of it and so we end up with things that are incomplete making their way into our brains but if there’s anything we should be aware of, it’s this cuz you know future of the planet at stake and stuff like that so- why do I not like these tweets? Well because here in America where I live, usually if there’s a wildfire, it’s an accident and sometimes, fires are okay because fires are a normal part of our ecosystems in America and sometimes they were done on purpose by like criminals who the government wants to arrest so, when you read these headlines as an American, you think “Oh no, a fire happened.”.I hope someone’s trying to put it out but in the Amazon, fire is not a natural part of the ecosystem and because of that, many trees cannot survive what we in the U.S would consider a trivial burn.

These fires are not natural, they are intentional. This isn’t intention like it’s arson, it’s intentional like this land is more economically productive when we graze cattle on it than when it’s the rainforest so the headline here should not be “Large swathes of the Amazon are burning.”, it should be Large swathes of the Amazon are being burned.

Now sometimes, in the dry season which we’re in right now, there are natural wildfires in the Amazon and in fact, the number of natural wildfires appears to be increasing because here’s the thing about the Amazon and other rainforests- with plenty of water and plenty of sunlight, the ecosystem is really good at using everything that comes it’s way: that means that most of the water that falls is immediately released back into the atmosphere by this tremendous amount of vegetation.

Photosynthesis gets done when water evaporates out of plants; a single tree can evaporate more than 50000 Gallons of water per year and once that water is back in the atmosphere, it falls again. Rainforests don’t just thrive on rain, they make rain so when there’s less rainforest, there’s less rain and more fires but that's not the real reason there’s so many more fires this year- it’s not hotter than normal, it’s not drier than normal, the thing that changed in Brazil is who the President is.

The moment he was elected, Jair Bolsonaro rolled back environmental protections in Brazil. Earlier this month, he fired the head of Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute after he defended data showing that deforestation had grown 40% in the last year. Bolsonaro says that figure is wrong and that deforestation is down: that’s a lie. When asked why there were so many fires this year, Bolsonaro said that maybe environmental are setting them to make him look bad: that is also a lie.

But this isn’t just pure malice and like love of destruction, there’s an ideology here- there’s the economic part of it which is just that there’s a lot of value in the rainforest and no one’s making any money off of it if it’s just being rainforest and there’s sort of an idealogical thing of like The civilising interest of man- we must bring our superior way of life to this wild jungle, racist manifest destiny kinda stuff- so to make the money, you encourage legal logging and farming, you reduce inspections, reduce regulations and you ignore illegal land grabs where forest is slashed and burned and then seeded with grass and sold to ranchers.

There’s also another piece of the ideology here that I think is really interesting, the reality is that most of the good that the Amazon does is for everyone: it produces oxygen for everyone, it traps Co2 for everyone, it preserves biodiversity for the whole world but Brazil isn’t getting paid for any of that stuff.

Far right perspectives, ultra nationalist perspectives, don’t really allow for stuff that helps everyone. It goes against this ideology that the nation is for the nation only and here’s where this gets super wild- the fact that the rest of the world cares so much about the Amazon rainforest isn’t perceived as a reason to protect it, it’s perceived by these people as a threat. It’s like a claim on their sovereignty, it’s thought of as internationalisation. After all, like legitimately what right do I, as an American, have to tell Brazil what to do with it’s rainforests- in America we have deforested everything we can so our interest in protecting it actually becomes a reason for some people to want to destroy it.

If you live in a world where everything is a zero sum game, why should anyone else benefit from our property and then there’s the reality that the Amazon is not, as we sometimes imagine it, empty. There are many indigenous people, other people who live and work in the forest and rely on the forest for their livelihoods but those people are often not seen as real Brazilians by these nationalists. Nationalism is an inherently exclusionary ideology and that's why fascism, nationalism, racism so often walk together but here’s the thing: of course, if the Amazon rainforest was 100% pasture  land and soy beans that would not just be a disaster for the whole world, it would be even more of a disaster for Brazil itself.

See how hot it is in Northern Africa, that’s actually farther away from the equator than Brazil is. Brazil receives more solar energy than Saudi Arabia but because of the rainforests it is much more cool. This is the effect of that evapotranspiration. The rainforest makes rain if there is less of it, it is clear that it would be hotter and these man made fires or even the natural ones will spread on their own leading to a feedback loop that could end the Amazon and 70% of the GDP of South America is made in places where the Amazon rainforest rain falls. Even here in America, again internationalisation for you, much of the rain that falls here is evapotranspired in the Amazon rainforest and an important note-when i’m talking about rain falling, what I’m really talking about is agriculture, I’m talking about food. We eat that rain. 

There’s a lot of talk about tipping points and I think it’s important to note that there are always many tipping points along the path to something being completely destroyed but yes, there is a time where less and less water falls in the rainforest and fires happen more and more often and there is a time when we lose most if not all of the Amazon. That’s a terrifying prospect considering that it produces 20% of the Oxeygen that we breathe and it’s why we have science to warn us about stuff like this so we can take action and it’s why we have human rights to protect people whose land is their land, whose life is their life.

But, it is all too easy to deny stuff like this when you have more of an allegiance to your ideology than you do to the truth and that something that I like to try and say to myself constantly. It’s why we need to call a lie a lie no matter who says it and it’s why we need to say that the rainforest is not burning, it is being burned.

John, I’ll see you on Tuesday.

Obviously this is a big and complicated thing and this is a short video so I’ve linked to a bunch of other resources: the article in The Intercept from a few months ago that basically predicted all of this was my favourite resource for this but there are lots of other smart people talking about it and it seems like people are having a better idea of what exactly is going on and why it’s happening so and I guess thanks for caring about this because that’s a big deal and it’s the only way we have slowed this in the past.