In the grand scheme of things, $22 million is not that much money.
Sure it’ll buy you a nice mansion, or finance a small movie. But when it comes to fighting tens of thousands of fires currently devastating a rainforest that is more than two-thirds the size of the continental United States — and which is essential to any ability we have to fight back against global warming — you’re going to need a bit more cash.
Nonetheless, $22 million was all that leaders of the G7, which consists of the world’s most powerful economies, could agree to commit towards assisting Brazil and its neighbors in protecting the Amazon and fighting the fires that are currently burning it to the ground. The small commitment was a victory for French President Emmanuel Macron, who had called the situation an “international crisis” and tweeted last week that “Our house is burning. Literally.”
But in a series of irate tweets on Monday, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro rejected the multinational aid offer, saying that the fires were an internal matter and that the country didn’t need outside assistance.
“We cannot accept that [President Macron] unleashes improper and unreasonable attacks on the Amazon, nor disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of countries for the G7 to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or no man’s land,” Bolsonaro said. “Other heads of state sympathize with Brazil, after all respect for the sovereignty of any country is the least that can be expected in a civilized world.”
On Tuesday Bolsonaro backtracked, sort of, by saying that Brazil might accept the aid if President Macron retracted his remarks. Macron earlier this week threatened to block a free-trade agreement between the European Union and Brazil over the fires, and the two were also feuding over a Facebook meme Bolsonaro had liked about Macron’s wife, which the French president described as “extremely disrespectful.”
The irony here is that, for all of Bolsonaro’s whining, there’s a direct correlation between his big-business friendly government and the record number of fires currently ablaze in the Amazon. Not only has Bolsonaro empowered ranchers, loggers and farmers to clear out the Amazon for their own profit, but he has also stacked his cabinet with figures who are, at worst, climate change deniers or, at best, completely apathetic to the dangers facing the Amazon and subsequently the entire planet.
An example of this apathy was reported by the Brazilian outlet Amazonia Real over the weekend. According to the outlet, the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama had contacted the National Guard and the Ministry of Justice earlier in the month, saying it urgently needed support in the state of Para in order to stop a “Fire Day” earlier this month. The request was denied by Brazilian justice minister.
“We asked for support from the National Guard, which is authorized by the Ministry of Justice,” one source told Amazonia Real. “But it was not available. I don’t know why.”
The global anger over the Amazon fires has forced Bolsonaro to at least start acting like he cares (somewhat) about the region. Over the weekend he tweeted out a video of a Brazilian air force plane dropping flame retardant on the Amazon, and noted that over 43,000 military personnel were standing by to be deployed to help combat the fires.
But any sort of international, far-reaching plan to stop the fires and prevent them from happening again has been bogged down by Bolsonaro’s claims that it is all part of a global plot to intrude upon Brazil’s sovereignty.
U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has taken next-to-no action to encourage Bolsonaro to accept more assistance, despite the warm rapport between the two far-right zealots. Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “ready to assist” with helping to combat the fires. But when it came time over the weekend to discuss climate change with other world leaders at a G7 meeting, Trump decided to skip it.