The fires that have ravaged the Amazon rainforest over the past month have been devastating to the world’s largest tropical forest ecosystem. Claiming 906,000 hectors of land according to some estimates and a 35% increase in the proliferation of fires in the region since 2010, the environmental integrity of much of the Amazon is in real jeopardy.
Environmental organizations and the media hastily judge the human activity that initially ignited these now-uncontrollable fires on the borders of the Amazon. According to the New York Times:
“Natural fires in the Amazon are rare, and the majority of these fires were set by farmers preparing Amazon-adjacent farmlands for next year’s crop and produce … This is a typical case of human deforestation: Farmers cut down trees to plant or expand a farm and burn the leaves to clean the ground.”
While politicians and pundits are quick to call upon the American and European public to assist in relief efforts, very few analysts recognize the primary cause of these wildfires: the lack of environmentally-friendly economic opportunities in the region.
From 2015 to 2016, Brazil suffered the worst recession in its history amid financial and governmental malfeasance. Although Brazil is the eight largest economy in the world, Brazil’s GDP per capita is only USD16,068.02, which is still less than the nation’s peak in 2014. This low national average income is augmented by the fact that Brazil is in the top twenty countries with the highest number of individuals living outside of the major metropolitan areas. In Brazil, metropolitan centers such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia are even more economically disadvantaged.
The New York Times acknowledged the financial difficulties of the areas surrounding the Amazon in an article discussing illegal encroachment on protected native lands, claiming that “as the recession hit Brazil’s impoverished northeast and Amazon states particularly hard, outsiders with families to feed ventured into [native territory]” to proceed with illegal mining and other commercial activities in the jungle.
Economic pressures have not only caused a spike in illegal activity but they have also propelled the expansion of croplands in the Amazon since the 2015 recession. According to Time Magazine, Brazil’s soybean producers are poised to capitalize on the US-China trade war to become the largest soy exporter. As many other countries, including the United States, have experienced, this economic opportunity means the destruction of forests for farmland.
What analysts and politicians fail to realize is that people in the Amazon states—in Brazil and other parts of South America—are hungry for the chance to improve their standards of living. Although not all residents of these areas wish to sacrifice their natural habitat, many are willing to make the tradeoff of environmental degradation for economic improvement.
There are profitable activities that synthesize the economic needs of humans with the biological needs of the environment. Ecotourism, which gives locals the ability to earn a living through sharing and preserving wildlife for visitors, creates abundant opportunities to for lucrative employment in a vibrant international industry. The benefits of ecotourism extend to tertiary industries that support travelers including telecommunication, and food services, increasing the amount of the national economy that directly and indirectly depends upon the preservation of natural resources. Those who are deeply concerned about the devastation in the Amazon should consider pursuing an ecotourist adventure, not only acquiring unforgettable memories but also meaningfully investing in the preservation of an important ecosystem through promoting human flourishing.
The current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro—who many journalist decry as a right-wing ideologue encouraging of deforestation—addressed attacks against his economic policies relating to the Amazon, saying “The Amazon is ours….We preserve more [rainforest] than anyone. No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon. You destroyed your own ecosystems.”
It is easy to criticize a developing country from the comforts of an advanced capitalistic society in the Northern Hemisphere. While we may have no moral right to denounce the economic policies that have influenced the current crisis Amazonia, there are things that we can do besides throw money towards environmental protection organizations. How about let’s try to create economic opportunities that support human and environmental flourishing?
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Gabrielle M. Etzel is a recent graduate of Grove City College with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Economics. She is a freelance Political Analyst, Writer, and Editor in Chief of the Unvarnished Blog<https://theunvarnishedblog.wordpress.com/>, direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> | LinkedIn <https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabrielle-m-etzel-60090/>
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