One would be forgiven for seeing a common pattern between the two statements. First is the statement made by Brazil’s President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, saying that the Amazon rainforest fires are being deliberately set by liberal NGOs in order to discredit him, and second, Donald Trump saying that the “fake news” mainstream media is deliberately destroying America’s economy in order to discredit him. Both statements involve spectacular lies about how the real world actually works, and both are vanity lies, calculated, however ineptly, to make the liar look like the victim rather than the villain.
But there’s a larger picture still. From Bolsonaro’s point of view, the Amazon rainforest is a potential cash cow that exists expressly to make him and his cronies money. That the rainforest serves the rest of the world as “the lungs of the planet,” providing as it does 20% of the earth’s oxygen, does absolutely nothing beneficial to the inside of Bolsonaro’s pockets. Similarly, the American economy and the job of president is nothing more or less to Donald Trump than a con, an angle, a hustle, existing exclusively for Donald Trump’s personal economic enrichment and individual glory. Both gentlemen are obvious sociopaths and, as far as they are concerned, the rest of the world can go screw itself.
It is little wonder, therefore, that both are conspicuous members of the other’s respective fan club. Donald Trump couldn’t care less if the Amazon rainforest burns to the ground, just as long as another far right nationalist politician gets to look good.
Meanwhile, in the real world, a terrible feedback loop in the Amazon rainforest is being fed. Bolsonaro is right in one sense, the rainforest isn’t burning, as is being popularly represented in the press, it’s being burned. Thanks in part to Bolsonaro’s policy of rolling back rainforest environmental protection, millions of acres are being deliberately burned in order to seed the area with grasslands to provide real estate sold to ranchers at staggering profits and handsome kickbacks to Bolsonaro. With less forest cover comes less rainfall, which will feed more fires in the dry season. The eventual result will be devastation that is unstoppable.
In the time it’s taken you to read this far, a segment of Amazon rainforest the approximate size of a football field has burned to the ground. If the current rate of deforestation continues the Amazon rainforest will be completely gone in forty years. The problem with that sentence is the words “current rate,” which does not take into account the feedback loop. Taking the feedback loop into account, where less forest means less rain and therefore more fires, the rainforest could be entirely gone in ten years. Should that happen we may very well find ourselves on the brink of extinction as a species, if not actually extinct. But hey, at least Bolsonaro and Trump will each have made big fat profits. So there’s always that.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.