End rainforest destruction to save planet

End rainforest destruction to save planet

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The Amazon is burning. That’s hugely troubling for all of us.

The vast South American rainforest is our planet’s lungs. Its estimated 390 billion trees produce 20% of the world’s oxygen and suck immense amounts of carbon dioxide from the air. The Amazon also is home to indigenous people, incredible biodiversity and a vast array of known and still-unknown plant sources for drugs and other medications.

The horrific destruction in Brazil in particular -- more than 41,000 fires have destroyed 4.6 million acres, 62% more than last year -- is made worse by that government’s complicity.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a hard-right populist who took office in January, has prioritized the desire of industries like mining and logging to milk the protected Amazon. And he has encouraged deforestation. To clear land, farmers and ranchers illegally set fires, knowing they can break Brazil’s tough environmental laws, which are no longer enforced.

Global outrage and anger at home finally forced Bolsonaro to announce plans to send in 44,000 soldiers to help fight the fires. The world, too, has been rallying, with special firefighting planes and a $20 million pledge from the G-7 countries.

But as the fight against the flames continues, the larger mission -- persuading Brazil to stop destroying the rainforest -- must be renewed.

Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation was cut by 80% thanks to programs like the Amazon Fund, which was fueled by outside donations, primarily from the governments of Norway ($1.2 billion) and Germany ($68 million).

Now both countries, upset that deforestation has risen sharply, have decided to cut back. This is unfortunate, though understandable. The Amazon Fund, or some similar successor, needs to shift its focus from rewarding Brazil for past successes to incentivizing more efforts to stop deforestation.

Pressure also could be applied by the European Union, via its new trade agreement with Brazil, by reducing purchases of beef and soybeans. The U.S. could act similarly. But our nation’s leaders, engaged in environmental attacks of their own at home, have been silent on the rape of the Amazon.

The G-7 leaders announced an agreement with other countries in the Amazon basin on long-term forest protection and reforestation, and said it might be presented to the UN next month. That’s a good step. But the two deals were unveiled after a G7 session on climate change that was skipped by President Donald Trump, the only world leader at last week's summit not to attend.

Trump insisted he was an environmentalist, a claim defied by his actions and his administration's actions. Our nation and the world would benefit if he matched his words with deeds.

The Amazon is too valuable to lose or shrink. It gives us air we breathe and medicines that keep us healthy, and absorbs carbon that’s overheating the Earth. We all have a stake in keeping it alive.

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