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Home / Opinion / Quick Edit /  Opinion | When the world’s lungs breathe fire

An environmental crisis of massive proportions is unfolding in Brazil, but one that has implications for the whole globe. Man-made fires have been devouring Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest. The intensity and scale of these fires, which have surged nearly 83% this year, can be gauged from the fact that thick smoke has thrown a pall of darkness on Sao Paulo, hundreds of kilometres away. Yet, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro remained unmoved until he was forced by global voices of condemnation and threats of economic sanctions to dispatch troops to contain the blaze. Bolsonaro, who was voted to power about eight months ago and had in his poll campaign pledged to exploit the Amazon for economic gains, has often dismissed climate change worries as a hoax.

Such ecological denialism has meant that the pace of illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated under his watch, and fires fanned to clear forests for farming have gone unpunished. Instead of addressing the problem, Bolsonaro has accused non-government organizations of setting forests afire just to discredit his government. He then said his country lacked the resources to snuff out the flames, and also thwarted the chance of financial help from overseas on the specious grounds of preserving Brazil’s sovereignty. In all this, he has resisted calls by environmentalists to save the Amazon while there is still time. The economy comes first, he argues. No wonder so many see Bolsonaro as holding the world to a ransom, so to speak.

The Amazon, about 60% of which is in Brazil, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It is a biodiversity hot spot, withmillions of unique species of plants and animals. It produces about 20% of the world’s oxygen, making it the lungs of the globe. These jungles absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, too, emissions of which are held responsible for global warming. The Amazon simply needs to be saved. The fire-fighting must start now—and in earnest.

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