Ali Velshi focused on the politics of deforestation in Brazil's rain forest, and the impact of the Amazon fire on the world's wildlife, water, and air.
August 22, 2019

If you want some numbers that will stop you in your tracks, Ali Velshi's segment with two leading experts on the Amazon's rain forest will do it for you. Paul Rosolie, a conservationist who gives tours of Brazil's rain forest, and Emilio Bruna, Director of the Brazil Institute at the University of Florida appeared on Velshi and Ruhle to drop some knowledge on us that should open our eyes to what we're losing in these devastating fires. Here are some of those numbers:

  • There have been 39,000 fires in the rain forest this year
  • Nearly 1,500 miles - length of smoke plume from end to end (distance of London to Athens)
  • 1/5 of clean water on the planet comes from this Amazon rain forest.
  • 1/5 of clean air on the planet comes from this Amazon rain forest.
  • Since 1970, we've already lost a portion of the Amazon equal in size to the state of Texas plus Kentucky.
  • In 2003, 27,000 km of forest was cleared for development and agriculture. In 2012, that was down 80% (4,600 km cleared.) Since Pres. Jair Bolsonaro came to power, it's increased 65% over 2012 level.
  • Rain forest covers 40% of Brazil, 2.3 million square miles in area.
  • Over $1 Billion (with a "B") donated by Norway alone to the Amazon Fund. That is how much value European countries place on keeping the Amazon rain forest and river basin in tact because of the environmental benefits it provides the entire planet. Money it is now halting because of Bolsonaro's reckless treatment of Brazil's rain forest.

Ali Velshi asked his guests what exactly Bolsonaro has to do with this depletion and destruction of the rain forest in Brazil. Was it because he was so hands off? Au contraire, emphasized Emilio Bruna.

BRUNA: It was very clear from his campaign forward that the Amazon was something that in his mind was not productive, was meant to be used, and when he means used and productive he means cleared for agriculture. Not only that it was also sending the message that if you clear the Amazon, you're not going to be faulted for it. Who's going to get blamed for it are the NGOs that are in the area. If you threaten indigenous activists or environmental activists or environmental journalists, the government will turn away from that and those people will not be punished for it. So he has created, both through formal policies but also informally, through creating an air of impunity, this idea that the Amazon is there to be cleared and used, and used in one way only: for agriculture and economic gain as opposed to the economic gain already shown to be valid and large, which is from leaving the forest standing.

Sound like anyone we know? But wait. There's more. When asked about the rising global alarm, the crescendo of criticism around the world against his inactions, Velshi wanted to know if it would perhaps influence Bosonaro to act differently, and in such a way as to preserve what remains of the global treasure that is the Amazonian River Basin and rain forest. Bruna's answer will remind you eerily of a certain sentient bag of gelatinous orange goo that slimes the Oval Office.

BRUNA: Well, I think like a lot of populists, Bolsonaro has already demonstrated that when he gets criticized internationally that's a sign that he must be doing something right, and something that plays to his base. It's important to remember, that money from Germany and Norway, that wasn't economic development money, right? That wasn't foreign aid. That was money that was contributed by countries from around the world to the Amazon Fund which is the largest, most important international framework for conserving the Amazon and more broadly tropical forests around the world. Norway, alone, contributed over a billion dollars to the Amazon Fund, and the reason they do that is because they see the value in paying for the ecosystem services that the Amazon provides.

Is this fixable? Can these fires be put out? Can the damage be reversed? Well... no. Conservationist Paul Rosolie broke down the numbers:

ROSOLIE: Not only that you have thousands, millions of years of carbon scored in that system and it is producing a fifth of our clean water and a fifth of the oxygen on our planet, so when you destroy the system you are doing decades and decades or centuries of damage.

VELSHI: And the industrial work to have to redo that, to take carbon out of the atmosphere and clean water and clean earth, that would be huge.

ROSOLIE: We don't have the technology for that. We don't have the capability for that. Right now NATURE is the thing that does that. That's why the whole thing is that we need to re-assess our entire relationship with nature. Everyone keeps messaging me going how do we put out the fires? You can't put out the fires. Even if you could, this is a systemic problem. This is decades and decades of deforestation that we've allowed to happen. This is apathy. We understand biology. We understand how interconnected all these systems are.

We understand it, but if it makes us a quick buck, we're cool with burning it down.

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