August 25th, 2019 by Scott Cooney
Climate anxiety is real. I’ve felt it for years — a sense that we’re demolishing the only planet we have, hurtling toward a cliff at unprecedented speed, and, for the most part, only a backseat driver is currently starting to murmur something along the lines of, “Hey, guys? Ummm … maybe we ought to … you know, I don’t want to nag or anything, but, maybe we oughta, ya know, slow down?” I know it’s real in others, too — I’ve seen a growing number of despair-oriented posts in my social media feeds. This week, it seems to have hit a fever pitch, with the Amazon rainforest on fire in a way that just seems different somehow.
Put aside everything else for a moment — the story is of course more complicated than wildfire — and let’s talk about what we can do. Brazil’s government, after initially shrugging its shoulders when the fires first started burning, is finally acting — sending in the military to fight fires. Most likely, that means using a megaton of fossil fuels to fly over the vast area with helicopters and drop petrochemical flame retardants on the fires (it’s the Dick Cheney school of making profit from catastrophe). The challenge of effectively fighting a fire (thousands of fires, to be more accurate) over that kind of area is not to be understated, and using fossil fuels and petrochemicals to fight fire? Hmm.
So, let’s just say that the most likely scenario is that the fires will burn themselves out at some point, after they’ve caused unbelievable damages to the resources of Brazil and to the world. The rainforest in Brazil provided 20% of our planet’s supply of oxygen. It’s one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. It harbors a biodiversity perhaps unrivaled anywhere in the world. In short, we lose the Amazon, we may lose this planet’s ability to support life, including our own. We better get to work restoring that forest as soon as we can, and that includes all of the previously lost areas as well as the areas affected by these new fires. The longer we wait, the bigger the chance that all of that soil and all of those nutrients will wash away in a giant flood the likes of which the world has never seen, making the area much less recoverable in our lifetimes at least, maybe longer.
Brazil’s government is not exactly sustainability-minded. The President (Bolsonaro) is a disciple of the school of Trump. He long ago pledged to open up the rainforest to more mono-crop production (soy, largely to feed cattle) and also direct cattle grazing. This, of course, is exactly the kind of short-term-gain/long-term-pain activity that has reduced the size of the Amazon rainforest by 20% already. Ultra-right-wing political operative/hit man Steve Bannon reportedly helped manipulate the Brazilian population through a well-funded propaganda campaign to help the current President of Brazil win, so you know there’s little to no chance the Brazilian leader will work to restore the forest after these fires are done. My guess (just based on watching the political actions of the modern conservative movement) is that Bolsonaro is more than likely responsible for the fires. My guess, given the Bannon methodology, is that his encouragement of the so-called “beef caucus,” which helped him get elected, hinted to them, “I’m gonna look the other way for a bit, ya know, so if you want to clear some land for cows, now would be a good time, and I’ll even blame environmentalists for it later in a tweet — hahahaha, aren’t I smart.” It does appear that these fires are being deliberately set for agricultural use. So … is this scenario plausible? With cowards and cheats like Bannon, Trump, and Bolsonaro, what do you think?
What to do, now?
International pressure will help. The European Union is actively pursuing economic penalties for Brazil, and millions of people are calling for a boycott of Brazilian beef. (And, let’s be honest, folks, if you have climate anxiety, it’s time. No more excuses. I promise you, after 27 years as a near vegan, it’s not only not hard, it’s awesome. You’ll manage your weight easier and feel much better. Vegetarian men have higher testosterone, lower heart disease, lower erectile dysfunction, lower chance of debilitating strokes, lower chance of cancer, etc., etc., etc. It’s just time, yo — man up and get with the f**king program already.)
But, to restore the forest, we’ll need a concerted effort. If I was emperor for a day, I’d hire a thousand permaculturists, grow a wide diversity of tree saplings, and send an army of volunteers out to help reforest the Amazon.
Global efforts at reforestation are happening in India, Africa, and Asia. As with anything, nothing is perfect, but we don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good around these parts. But why not the Amazon, too?
However, reforestation doesn’t solve the long-term problem that right wing extremists like Steve Bannon use to manipulate people, and that is money. The beef caucus has more money in Brazil than the environmentalists. Beef creates jobs. They’re short-term, unsustainable jobs creating products that make people sick (ironically, just like the fossil industry), but they are jobs. Desperate poor people hear “jobs” and (I cannot blame them for this) through self-preserving cognitive bias tune out the rest of the story about how they’ll be ruining their children’s future for a job that might last a year or two. Of course, big companies that make big money on these unsustainable activities make a few quarters of profit and then leave a pile of rubble, no jobs, and no more resources, and move on to find another few quarters of profit, leaving those people behind with no sustainable future and no more resources to exploit.
So, how do we solve the long-term problem? Well, maybe this is the time when Jeff Bezos needs to don a Superman cape. CEOs of the Fortune 500 just made headlines saying that companies do have a responsibility beyond the one they have to their shareholders. This is a major rebuke of the last 3 decades of right-wing politics that stemmed from Milton Friedman’s shortsighted vision, and which were fueled by the Koch brothers’ bottomless pit of Dark Money, media manipulation (okay, let’s just call it what it is — propaganda), and, basically, a war on the human race.
But maybe Amazon.com can truly save the Amazon.
Amazon Smile allows you to pick a charity and have 5% of your purchase be donated to that charity on qualifying purchases. Among the charities you can choose include a number of rainforest allies. Yet, the numbers don’t add up.
Critics have assailed Amazon Smile’s much ballyhooed yet decidedly paltry charitable giving. One of the key complaints is how cryptic Amazon Smile is — it’s not “automatic,” for instance. I go to shop, it knows who I am (better than I do some days), but it doesn’t keep my donations going for some reason. I have to type in smile.amazon.com, for my purchases that day to count. Seriously? If I just go to Amazon.com, Amazon simply keeps the 5%. Hard to believe the company that made one-click purchasing a thing just … oops … can’t figure out how to keep my purchases supporting a charity I chose.
It also resets the charity — I have had to re-enter my charity of choice on multiple occasions, lest my purchases end up supporting a pre-chosen charity. Also, there’s no way to do Amazon Smile on Amazon’s mobile app or on a phone. Hmm … seems like that wouldn’t be hard, either, for a company with so many engineers and so much technology.
It’s time for Amazon to step up its game. If the world’s biggest retailer could turn most of its Amazon Smile donations over the next year to rainforest partners who were actually working to restore rainforest (and not in a monoculture, but in a truly permacultured way) around the world, it could potentially save the world.
But it’s much bigger than Amazon Smile.
Amazon is in a better position to solve the whole problem, not just a symptom, than perhaps any other company. Think if it also promoted a whole line of sustainably sourced products from people living sustainably under a canopy of rainforest trees. It could counteract the right-wing propaganda put forth by fossil and beef companies by creating way more jobs, and jobs that are truly sustainable and long term, and in the process, it could help heal our planet’s lungs. People around the world could be prompted to buy Rainforest Alliance Certified shade-grown coffee, yerba matte, chocolate, goji berries, and a plethora of other food and herbal medicine goods that help keep those trees alive. Keeping them alive is our responsibility. They keep us alive, after all.
Waiting for Superman
There’s a documentary called Waiting for Superman. It’s about America’s public school system, but the tagline here could be the same. It seems many are waiting for Superman to save us from ourselves in this climate crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into. I don’t believe in Superman. I believe each of us has the power to do something good, and that cumulatively, all that good will change the world. But dang, it sure would be nice to have an ally like Amazon.com helping all us grassroots people fight the billion-dollar propaganda campaigns from the likes of Exxon, Fox News, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Steve Bannon, and the Koch brothers (well, Koch brother now, technically, but their combined legacy and their money will continue to pollute our world for decades after the other brother dies).