By Alejandro A. Tagliavini *
First of all, keep calm because the “lung of the planet” are the oceans, not the trees, since they generate between 50 and 90% – according to different experts – of global oxygen thanks to marine phytoplankton. On the other hand, as Ian Vázquez points out, although for the National Institute of Space Research of Brazil in 2019 there were 83% more fires than in 2018, the leading expert Daniel Nepstad ensures that the increase is only 7% above the average of the last ten years.
In any case, the power of propaganda is remarkable. States, politicians in order to benefit and hide their faults, because they have a great capacity for dissemination, are making public opinion believe that they are the only ones who can solve the problem and, therefore, need more power, more money.
Ironically, as Jorge Amador assures, states are the main polluters, starting with the Armed Forces, their military bases and garbage dumps and following their companies as the huge state oil companies. Using the Armed Forces, which are highly polluting, to put out fires is ironic. That job could well be done more effectively by private fire departments and insurance companies.
Precisely the fact that public opinion reacts with such concern shows that the problem was created by politicians, not the market that, by the way, is not the big companies as some believe, but these common people, of public opinion.
It is true that peasants were primarily responsible for lighting the fire but encouraged by the government. Evo Morales passed a decree that allowed the controlled burning of forests in the Bolivian Amazonian departments of Santa Cruz and Beni, where the fires began extending to Brazil.
On the other hand, land was handed over for free and, although it may seem very “charitable,” this causes two problems. First, because it is not valued and, therefore, the property is not taken care of and, second, the occupants do not have the necessary resources. It happens that these poor families did not have the necessary equipment to deforest, and transform the land into arable land, so they had no other solution than to burn the weeds.
It is the common people – the market – that are most strongly dedicated to the preservation of nature. Horses, for instance, do not disappear from earth because they are in private hands, which basically does not happen with other animals on the verge of extinction.
According to Jarret Wollstein, during the 1960s, the government of Brazil embarked on a massive development of its Amazon rainforest. And the State built thousands of kilometers of roads with subsidies, granted cheap loans to farmers and ranchers, and even provided them with free transportation. The farmers burned the forests. Amazon agriculture was profitable only because of subsidies.
In contrast, Matt Ridley wrote that, in New Zealand, the government stopped subsidizing farmers. What was very beneficial for the environment, since they used state subsidies to artificially convert, through the use of pesticides and polluting fertilizers, land that was not profitable according to the market.
* Member of the Advisory Board of the Center on Global Prosperity, of Oakland, California