September 21, 2019

Amazon blaze puts indigenous people at risk

“An interesting trend remains regarding the blatant disrespect of indigenous lands and the forests as a whole.”

The climate is changing and as the world heats slowly right-wing reactions to lessen the impact of climate policies on the global economy is destroying the most important parts of what makes this beautiful planet worth saving. In this crossfire lies the fate of indigenous people and the few old-growth forests we have yet.

As an American, my attitude toward wildfires ranges from “that sucks” to “that really sucks.” Wildfires are commonplace in this country. I understand the importance of fire to the health of coniferous trees in northern and western North America. According to a study published by Climate Central in June 2016, climate change has exacerbated these events and made them into infernos that are nearly impossible to control in some cases. Often, however, I hope for the best and go on about my day. 

Unlike western and northern North America, the Amazon rainforest does not rely on wildfires to keep its ecosystem intact. While not uncommon, research published by National Geographic said the wildfires have sped up during the 2019 tropical dry season.

Graphic by Allison Lewis

Upon further reading, the realization was almost too much to stomach. The Amazon Rainforest isn’t just burning but being burned by industrial companies aiding the recent uptick in wildfires. 

This fire isn’t only climate related. The biggest contributor is man-made fires from cattle pastures and timber companies according to research published by National Geographic. A theory circulating on Twitter is that the fires are a result of a court case settled in Ecuador earlier this year. 

The legal battle over the rainforest was filed by the Waorani people in February. through the Ecuadorian parliament. Ecuador had been auctioning off blocks of the forest for logging or mineral extraction to international companies. According to Reuters, the tribe had been battling an on-going court case concerning the selling of sacred Amazonian lands to oil companies. 

On April 26, 2019, a panel of three judges ruled in favor of the indigenous tribe saying the government did not consult the Waorani people to give consent to auction off their land. The ruling also voided a highly flawed consultation process between the government and the indigenous tribe. 

Many environmentalists and indigenous rights activists saw this as an absolute win. That is until you remember right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro exists.

Bolsonaro has been a metaphorical fire on the frontiers of the Amazon since his candidacy last year. He has made promises to make Brazil a more developed nation through economic growth. This growth would be spurred by lifting the environmentally friendly regulations on logging, mining and agricultural companies set down by his predecessors. 

The victory of the indigenous people of the Amazon and biodiversity conservationists was short lived when agriculture companies started their slash and burn in Brazil in August. Slash and burn is a method of cutting down and burning existing vegetation to make room for farms or pastures.

While Ecuador and Brazil are two different countries with interests far apart, these fires have been ongoing in both countries along with other South American nations with smaller but still significant blazes.

Many hold this sequence of events to be controversial and cite the anger of oil companies who had not gotten their way as the catalyst for these fires to occur. While I want to believe these online theories, my duty as a journalist is to look at the data. From my own research, no direct link can be found.

An interesting trend remains, however, regarding the blatant disrespect of indigenous lands and the forest as a whole. It pains me to see another nation falling into the same pattern of nations before it and stomping out the minority voice and ignore a call for action.

More often than not these people do not have a voice. Even more helpless are the chirping canopies of the jungle. Only in the last few decades have these remote corners of the globe been offered protection. 

It is important to remain aware of the fragility of the forest and of these people who have inhabited for millennia. The burning of the Amazon affects all of us but no one more those who call it home.

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