Amazon Rain-forest Fires – are we being hypocritical?

Pictures of the burning Amazon rain-forests are horrifying enough to bring despair.  Surely the world is doomed unless they stop!

Easy to say, isn’t it.  And I have found myself responding like that to the media attention.  But is that really the situation?   Is this just a smokescreen (no pun intended) to distract attention from deeper problems?  Let’s see if we can find the facts:

Carbon uptake in the Amazon is important.  The following article https://phys.org/news/2017-02-carbon-uptake-amazon-forests-region.html  points out that the carbon captured by the Amazon rainforests is equal to “four times the UK emissions for 2016”.  It is also equivalent to emissions in the region.  The nations of the Amazon are carbon neutral!

The  entire combined emissions from deforestation and fossil fuels  from the nations in the Amazon is only four times the emissions of the UK.   UK emissions are about 1% of global emissions. https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html .  China emissions account for 28% of global emissions.  The same site shows the emissions per person, with the top few being Saudi Arabia, USA, Australia and Canada at over 15 tonnes per person per year.  By contrast Brazil emits 2.17 tonnes per person.  France (with reference to comments from M Macron) emits twice that – and remember that France has a lot of nuclear power.

Clearly the countries of the Amazon are not the culprits in producing carbon emissions.  But consider why they are burning the forest.  They want to improve their standard of living, fulfilling a market ‘need’ for food.  And which capitalist country can argue with that?  Why do they want to improve their standard of living?  Because they are nowhere near the top. Brazil ranks 62 in the quality of life index. UK ranks 18th and USA 13th.  https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp

So the scale of the problem is small compared to the global emissions of the rest of the world, and the reason for the burning of the forests is to improve the standard of living of the population in the only way possible in the capitalist culture of the modern world.

And things have improved considerably in recent years.  Deforestation in the Amazon is roughly a third of what it was at the turn of the century: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/deforestation_calculations.html  and is ‘reasonably’ stable at around 80% of the 1970 levels.  This is not to say it is not important, but that perhaps most of the damage has been done.

If we in the west value the contribution that the rain-forests make to the world then we should pay for it.  We should not be sanctioning, or even threatening to invade (which I saw suggested on one site).  We pay for oil, which we then use to produce CO2 for our comfort, so we should pay those who capture our carbon.

In fact, there are mechanisms in place if we are willing to put our money where our concerns are, then we can each do something to reduce deforestation.  Here is one example: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/brazil_para_redd.html. Why not commit to offset all your personal emissions in this way? And before you ask, yes, I have – my emissions for the last 35 years.

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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