The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well

The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well The First Mass in Brazil (1860) by Victor Meirelles. Wikipedia

São Paulo – the largest city in the Americas – was recently plunged into darkness in the middle of the day due to smoke from the Amazon rainforest burning more than 2,700km (1,700 miles) away.

These fires have brought global attention to the forests of South America, but the crisis surrounding them has deep roots. To understand what is happening in the Amazon today, it’s necessary to understand how deeply exploitation of the forest, and the Indigenous peoples who live within it, are ingrained in the global economy.

The first Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil on April 22 1500. The region didn’t at first appear to offer the gold or silver that was to make Central America a tempting target for colonisers, but it did present a more obvious asset: vast forests with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of timber.

The region’s Brasilwood trees produced a valuable red dye, and with the colour red in fashion in the French court, Brazil’s forests quickly became a target for profit-minded Europeans. Brasilwood was so prevalent before colonisation that it lent its name to the country. But after centuries of overharvesting, these trees are now a highly endangered species.

Indigenous peoples were initially incentivised to help harvest timber in exchange for European goods. But eventually the native peoples were enslaved and made to destroy the forests which had provided the wood for their homes and the game and plants for their diet.

Once cleared of trees, land was turned into plantations to grow labour-hungry cash crops such as sugar, encouraging the enslavement of yet more Indigenous people. When they proved too few in number, vast numbers of people were taken from Africa and forced into slavery alongside them.

Global economy, local cost

The Mata Atlântica, a vast tropical forest which stretched down the east coast of the country and well into its interior, was an obvious target for the seafaring colonisers, who needed to ensure the materials they harvested could be easily transported to overseas markets.

But the environmental cost of this process was massive. As much as 92% of the Mata Atlântica has been destroyed over the past 500 years, erasing the places in which hundreds of distinct cultures evolved over the preceding millennia. Vast numbers of species disappeared along with it.

The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well Indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon were enslaved by rubber barons into the 20th century. Walter Hardenberg/Wikipedia

In the 19th century, the British cleared yet more forest to establish rubber plantations. Despite officially being keen to encourage the abolition of slavery, the British-owned Peruvian Amazon Company violently forced Indigenous people into servitude. The anthropologist Wade Davis would later comment that

The horrendous atrocities that were unleashed on the Indian people of the Amazon during the height of the rubber boom were like nothing that had been seen since the first days of the Spanish Conquest.

The American industrialist Henry Ford founded a rubber-producing town deep in the Amazon rainforest in 1928. He hoped to “develop that wonderful and fertile land” to produce the rubber his company needed for car tires, valves and gaskets. Fordlândia, as it became known, was abandoned in 1934.

The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well Fordlândia required the Ford Motor Company to ‘develop’ significant areas of rainforest. The Henry Ford Collection

By the middle of the 20th century, the size of the Indigenous population first encountered by the Portuguese had shrunk by 80-90%. Meanwhile, the global demand for beef accelerated the destruction of South American forests to free up new grazing land.

Global brands, such as McDonalds, have been linked with Brazilian beef, half of which is produced on lands which were once rainforest. Just as demand for sugar and rubber fuelled historic slavery, the global appetite for beef drives deforestation and displaces Indigenous people today.

New frontiers

The current crisis in the Amazon began with illegal gold miners, loggers, and farmers setting fires to clear lands for new enterprises. This process has been promoted and celebrated by the government of Jair Bolsonaro and the country’s powerful agribusiness sector. Already dislocated people face an increasingly grave situation. This is especially true for uncontacted groups who’ve yet to cultivate biological resistance to the diseases which outsiders can introduce, or develop the cultural experience necessary to navigate today’s complex political landscape.

The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well Members of the Kaingang, a people displaced by the destruction of the Mata Atlântica. Their name can be translated as ‘owners of the forest’. Darren Reid, Author provided

Many of Brazil’s Indigenous cultures are completely oriented around their forests. In the modern era, their belief systems endure in groups such as the Kaingang, a part of the Gê peoples who occupied the southern parts of the Amazon rainforest and lived throughout the Mata Atlântica. They must actively nurture and protect these beliefs in the face of tremendous outside pressure.

Unlike in the US, dense forests and unmapped locations, not to mention uncontacted peoples, ensure continuity between the earliest days of European colonisation and modern Brazil.

Indigenous peoples have shown remarkable strength and resilience against more than 500 years of colonialist attack. But they remain vulnerable to an insatiable global economy which profits from the destruction of South American forests and the people who live within them. The recent fires are simply the most recent chapter in a much longer story.The Conversation

About The Author

Darren Reid, Senior Lecturer, American History and Popular Culture, Coventry University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

EVIDENCE

Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
What The World Was Like The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were At 400ppm
What The World Was Like The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were At 400ppm
by James Shulmeister
The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around four…
What An Ocean Hidden Under Antarctic Ice Reveals About Our Planet's Future Climate
What An Ocean Hidden Under Antarctic Ice Reveals About Our Planet's Future Climate
by Craig Stevens and Christina Hulbe
Jules Verne sent his fictional submarine, the Nautilus, to the South Pole through a hidden ocean beneath a thick ice…
Antarctic Ice Shelves Reveals A Missing Piece Of The Climate Puzzle
Antarctic Ice Shelves Reveals A Missing Piece Of The Climate Puzzle
by Katherine Hutchinson
Ice shelves, massive floating bodies of ice, are well-known for their buffering effect on land-based ice sheets as they…
Why We Won't Be Heading Into An Ice Age Any Time Soon
Why We Won't Be Heading Into An Ice Age Any Time Soon
by James Renwick
When I studied climate in my university geography course in the 1960s, I am sure we were told that the Earth was…
How Volcanoes Influence Climate And How Their Emissions Compare To What We Produce
How Volcanoes Influence Climate And How Their Emissions Compare To What We Produce
by Michael Petterson
Everyone is going on about reducing our carbon footprint, zero emissions, planting sustainable crops for biodiesel etc.
What Is Climate Sensitivity?
What Is Climate Sensitivity?
by Robert Colman and Karl Braganza
Humans are emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As these gases build up they trap extra heat…

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
by Ann Rowan
In the world of glaciology, the year 2007 would go down in history. It was the year a seemingly small error in a major…
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
by Edward Lempinen
By the end of this century, tens of millions of people could die each year worldwide as a result of temperatures rising…
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
by Janet Stephenson
A proposed multibillion-dollar project to build a pumped hydro storage plant could make New Zealand’s electricity grid…
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
by Guaduneth Chico et al
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce…
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
by Stuart Capstick
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about…
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…