The Amazon jungle burns Aug. 24, 2019, as it is cleared by loggers and farmers in Porto Velho, Brazil. CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

Editorial: Amazon lessons

  • September 5, 2019

When the Amazon suffers, the world suffers.

So said Latin American bishops in late August as thousands of forest fires raged out of control consuming vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest, a vital ecological area often called “the lungs of the world.”

But another way to assess the blaze is to say that as the world suffers, the Amazon will suffer, too.

It would be a mistake to shrug off the Amazon inferno as an isolated phenomenon rather than seeing it as the latest symptom of a complex global crisis which, as Pope Francis has highlighted, is as much about modern human failings as it about the environment. The natural world is not separate from the human one. They are intimately interconnected. 

The flames roaring across the Amazon have fiercely illuminated that connection and their heat underscores the madness of remaining indifferent to that bond.

In Laudato Si’, his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis lamented how, for two centuries, we have “hurt and mistreated” the planet. He concluded that “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain” and that, given the unrelenting pace of consumption, waste and the spread of unsustainable lifestyles, the planet was headed inevitably towards ecological catastrophe.

That prediction is unfolding in the Amazon. Deforestation there has been an issue for several years as farmers, loggers and miners have received government blessing to clear large tracts of land. Programs to industrialize a vital ecosystem that produces 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen have intensified recently as governments yearn to be larger players in a global economy that has paid little regard to the environment. 

The current catastrophe was sparked by fires set legally by farmers attempting to clear rainforest in a controlled manner. It is not a natural disaster — it is a man-made one. But although lit by farmers, the fires were kindled by a global mindset that is fixated on wealth and comfort even at the cost of environmental degradation, exploitation of the poor and destruction of Indigenous cultures.

It is easy to solely blame the Amazon blaze on Brazilian or Bolivian action or inaction, but doing so ignores the influence of decades of global human activity that has glamourized affluence and equated status with what you own more than who you are. 

As Pope Francis wrote, the planet is not faced with two crises, one environmental and the other human. It’s all one. The monster may have two heads but it breathes as a single beast.

To achieve the healthy ecology envisioned by the Pope and many others requires simultaneous solutions to both the environmental and human failings infecting the planet. 

The Amazon fires are huge, but flames rising from the rainforest are just a small manifestation of a complex global crisis that no one yet knows how to fix.

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