World News - Wendy Buendia

We Didn’t Start The Fire, We Partly Caused It

        As the summer heat was ending in the United States, the temperatures were rising in the Amazon forests. Everyone knows the importance of the Amazons, often being referred to as the “lungs of the earth.” While many countries and activists spoke out against the Bolsonaro administration’s part in the Amazon fires, where one of the biggest environmental problems is mostly located in Brazil, there are other important climate change issues that haven’t been addressed or ignored by major world powers. The conflicting interests and ethics involving climate action are what make this climate problem interesting. The rainforests were supposed to be protected, but the government turned a blind eye when farmers and agriculture companies began tearing down and burning land.  

        An area with such global significance, there are laws to protect the land and the many species that live in the Amazon rainforest. Laws were included in Brazil’s Constitution that the lands of the indigneous people be untouched and protected by the federal government. Throughout the years, the enforcement of these environmental laws loosened because of corporate greed with the agricultural industry, and it is the most noticeable during the Bolsonaro administration.

        Agribusiness contributes a quarter to Brazil’s economy. JBS, the largest meat-processing company in the world, is interested in the capital they would gain by burning down forests to create grazing land for cows. The Netflix show, Patriot Act, reported that Brazil accounts for 24 percent of their revenue, and America accounts for 76 percent. Problems have been rising about their product in the U.S division, resulting in the FDA redacting their meat. But under the Bolsonaro administration, they are looking to strengthen that relationship, which led to breaking environmental laws. These environmental laws are in place to protect the land of the indigenous tribes that live there. The Amazon holds cultural value for many of Brazil’s indigenous tribes, whose home is supposedly protected by the Brazilian government. The territories that weren’t burned down are occupied by the indigenous people, and that’s only because they fought back against loggers and anyone else who posed a threat to their home.  

        In a CNN article that came out on September 12th of this year, it was reported that Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araujo, stated at the Heritage Foundation that Brazil is not the culprit for the Amazon fires. Araujo places the blame on other countries, saying that “that other countries were "trying to reduce us" under the name of climate action.” Brazil’s stance on climate change is similar to that of President Trump’s, and it raises the question; should we be criticizing Brazil for its part in the Amazon fires when other countries have not combatted the climate action issue more directly? In the United States, regulations and acts that protect critically endangered species and parks are being loosened by the Trump administration.

         An interesting perspective was brought up by Mr. Araujo’s statement, and have prompted some valid points that were discussed by Mr. Kane, our school’s director of environmental stewardship.  In an interview with Mr. Kane, the roles that are played at the local, federal, and global levels were discussed. 


How are students learning more about the ethics surrounding environmental justice?

        I hope that they are reading and reacting to stories about this in the current news reports. Citizens of Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey experienced terrible water contamination issues that permanently altered the lives of children in these communities, where high concentrations of economically disadvantaged individuals reside. I am not sure if these issues are discussed in class here, as I don’t have that lens.  I was invited into several ethics classes a few years ago to discuss environmental ethics but haven’t been invited back again (maybe I did not do a good job!) In my view, we need more student-led conversations here at school about these critical issues. I am looking for leadership from the students in that regard. 


        We are working in the faculty social responsibility committee to identify ways that we can raise awareness of these issues and find the intersections of environmental concern with equity and service. We have formed a student committee here at the Upper School and hope that these will be places of thought, concern, and deep conversations about similar injustices. Again, we need voices at the table to raise and talk about these issues. 


The United States has contributed to a lot of pollution. Do you find it hypocritical that they are criticizing Brazil for their actions?

        Developed nations, such as the United States and many in western Europe have for centuries taken precious resources and used them for economic gain. Collectively, we burned a lot of coal, oil, and gas over 140 years which is a major factor in the highly altered climate. I think it is wrong for us to point at other nations who want to grow and provide jobs for their citizens. But I also I hope that we point openly to our mistakes to show other countries that there are better ways to grow communities and jobs without relying on burning fossil fuels or deforestation. 


Is there any blame that should be placed solely on one country, or does the blame go to the world for not confronting this issue sooner?

        Blame won’t result in a positive new direction so it is futile to go there. What will get us to a new place is acknowledging our past environmental transgressions - some of which were intentional and some done out of ignorance. We have known for decades that extraction and burning of fossil fuels has warmed the planet, and each generation has said “we need to do something about this,” but sadly very little of note has changed. Well, time has run out. We are past being able to make large changes that can take back carbon emissions. The Earth is irrevocably altered. However, there are about 12 years left to change the patterns and habits and have some hope. Last week Greta Thurnberg shamed all of my generation for not getting our acts together to make change happen. She has a right to do that, given our failures and continued bad practices.