The whole world has watched over the summer as the Amazon rainforest has been ablaze. Brazilian president and right-wing demagogue, Jair Bolsonaro, has been at the centre of this environmental destruction. The catastrophe has set up a clash between Bolsonaro, his own ministers, world leaders, and protestors about the region’s conservation.
Alarm bells began to ring when the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil revealed that July saw the largest loss of vegetation in any single month since 2015, with a deforested area 212 percent higher than that of July 2017.
Bolsonaro accused INPE of publishing fake data and said that the government would reveal the ‘real data’ - which, unsurprisingly, never happened.
In support of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies, landowners staged a ‘Day of Fire’ on 10-11 August. A ‘slash-and-burn’ of coordinated fires was set off, intensifying the flames, especially in the south of the Amazon.
As a result, on 19 August, the city of São Paulo was covered by a black cloud that darkened the city by the middle of the afternoon. The rain that followed was completely black. Social media and international news channels were soon full of these foreboding images.
Due to this shocking sight, the environmental question has become a new focal point for the widespread anger towards Bolsonaro and his reactionary government, which has responded to activists’ concerns with nothing but dismissive sarcasm.
this is a whole pic of Sao Paulo, Brazil at 2 P.M. in the afternoon. it's dark because of the smoke from the amazon fires.🙃 pic.twitter.com/XirKsXXTEb— toronto raptors nba champions 2019 (@ayesha4t) August 29, 2019
Profiting from destruction
Having been cornered, Bolsonaro fought back using nationalist rhetoric about the defence of “Amazonia’s sovereignty”. Yet such talk about “sovereignty” is nothing but hot air. After all, Bolsonaro’s project for the region is to open it up to mining, logging, and oil extraction by multinational corporations.
The truth is that Bolsonaro isn’t capable of offering anything but death, destruction, and capitalist barbarism. It is enough to check the list of his donors to understand that behind the Brazilian President’s utterances lie the insatiable appetites of big business.
But we should have no illusions in the ability of any capitalist government to protect the region. Even before Bolsonaro, during the governments of Lula and Dilma, the conflict between indigenous people and peasants on one side, and prospectors, loggers, landowners and their gunmen on the other, caused many deaths and destroyed entire communities.
The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, for example, forcibly pushed through by Dilma’s government against all warnings, pushed whole populations into misery, forcing those that had formerly been able to live off the forest into beggary and prostitution.
Elsewhere, agrobusiness - the main culprit behind the Amazon’s deforestation to clear land for cattle ranching and plantations - had its greatest growth during the Lula government. Contrary to the sector’s propaganda, the majority of production in the latifundia is not of food, but rather commodities such as corn and soy which go directly to the international market.
The governments led by the Workers’ Party of Dilma and Lula made big concessions to these groups in their obsessive attempts to achieve budget surplus - that is, to provide the bankers and financiers with their pound of flesh.
Capitalism and the environment
In response to the Brazilian government’s actions, Germany and Norway suspended their donations to the Amazon Fund. This is a major source of funding for Brazilian institutions that are responsible for protecting and developing the world’s largest rainforest.
But it is clear that foreign interest - from France, Germany, and so on - in ‘protecting’ Amazonia is nothing but imperialist interest.
World leaders cry crocodile tears over this environmental disaster, and admonish Bolsonaro for his ruinous policies. But the real aim of these big business politicians is for greater, more direct control over the planet’s natural resources, in the interests of the major monopolies that they defend and represent.
Norway, for example, is the source of 98 percent of donations to the Amazon Fund. But it is also one of the major shareholders of the mining company Hydro Alunorte, which had a clandestine pipeline to discharge untreated toxic waste into springs in the Barcarena municipality, in the interior of the state of Pará.
The capitalists are not concerned about improving humanity’s living conditions, or protecting nature in order to rationally manage natural resources. Their only concern is to increase their profits, by finding cheaper sources of raw materials and labour. Their only objective is to reduce production costs, sell commodities, expand markets, and make profits. Nothing else.
This episode once again reveals how little capitalism cares about the environment. Most importantly, it demonstrates how we cannot rely on capitalist politicians to solve this burning issue. It is only through mass action – not just against climate change, but against the whole capitalist system – that we can find a solution to the urgent issues of climate change and ecological destruction.
Nature and socialism
Humanity has developed on the basis of labour. By interacting with our surroundings, our species has learnt how to dominate over nature and transform it for our own survival - be it in the production of tools for hunting or in the development of agriculture. This process has not only changed nature, but has also changed humanity, leading to the rise of society and civilisation.
But now we have arrived at a point where we have at our disposal all the necessary science and understanding needed to develop society and raise living standards without destroying nature. It is possible now, on the basis of the latest technology and technique, to utilise the earth’s resources in a rational and sustainable way.
We have arrived at a point in which we can produce enough food for the whole world’s population. We have developed technologies that have taken us into space and to the moon. We have discovered new planets, stars, and galaxies.
As Engels writes in Dialectics of Nature:
“In short, the animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature - but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.”
But what now holds us back as a society is not science and technology, but the economic system that we live under - a system that is focussed not on humanity’s needs, but only on profit. Capitalism cannot offer anything to future generations. It must be overthrown and abolished.
Scientific research has proven conclusively that the resources and natural wealth of the Amazon would be infinitely greater if the forest is protected, managed, and sustainably developed. But a rational use of these resources is only possible under an economy based on democratic, socialist planning.
We need a socialist plan of production - one in which industry and infrastructure is controlled and managed by the working class, and not by corporations whose profits are dependent on destruction. It is necessary to fight the root of this environmental destruction. It is necessary to fight against capitalism.