Things That Matter

Leonardo DiCaprio Stands Up To Fight Amazon Fires, Pledges $5M To Support Indigenous Groups

Leonardo DiCaprio is well known for his environmental activism. He’s spoken at numerous conferences, co-produced a documentary, and promoted a plant-based diet, all to help our global environment and our battle against climate change. 

So when news broke that the Amazon rainforest is experiencing unprecedented forest fires, of course Leo was one of the first major public figures to step forward and actually try and do something to help. 

The Titanic actor pledged $5 million to help fight the growing environmental crisis happening in Brazil and Bolivia right now.

Earth Alliance will give the money to local groups and indigenous communities as they work to protect the Amazon.

The National Institute for Space Research in Brazil says there have been more than 72,000 fires in the Amazon rainforest this year. That’s up from 40,000 at the same point last year.

A statement on the Earth Alliance website says: “The destruction of the Amazon rainforest is rapidly releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, destroying an ecosystem that absorbs millions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year and is one of the planet’s best defences against the climate crisis.”

“The lungs of the Earth are in flames. The Brazilian Amazon — home to 1 million Indigenous people and 3 million species — has been burning for more than two weeks straight,” DiCaprio wrote in an Instagram post announcing the donation

Several on-the-ground organizations will benefit from the infusion of cash. 

The organizations receiving the cash are Instituto Associacao Floresta Protegida (Kayapo), Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), Instituto Kabu (Kayapo), Instituto Raoni (Kayapo) and Instituto Socioambiental (ISA).

Earth Alliance was founded by Leo and two other philanthropists in July – aiming to protect wildlife, push for climate justice and secure indigenous rights.

The Amazon Forest Fund is the group’s initiative to raise money for the protection of this specific area.

In an Instagram post on Saturday, the actor said he is “deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in the Amazon, which highlights the delicate balance of climate, biodiversity, and the wellbeing of indigenous peoples”.

He wants the public to get involved and support the crisis too, linking to ways people can make donations.

Meanwhile, international leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, are reportedly reaching an agreement on international help towards the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron said G7 countries would release $22 million to help combat the fires.

The funding pledge was announced as the leaders of the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – continue to meet in Biarritz, France.

However, President Jair Bolsonaro said Mr Macron’s plan of an “alliance” to “save” the Amazon treated Brazil “as if we were a colony or no man’s land”.

Mr Macron said the funds would be made available “immediately” – primarily to pay for more fire-fighting planes – and that France would also “offer concrete support with military in the region within the next few hours”.

However, Mr Bolsonaro – who has been engaged in a public argument with Mr Macron in recent weeks – accused the French leader of launching “unreasonable and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon region”, and “hiding his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G7 countries”.

He wrote on Twitter that Brazil’s sovereignty should be respected – and said he had discussed with Colombia’s president the need for “a joint plan” from the countries that actually made up the Amazon region.

And the fires come as the Brazilian ministry for the environment has had funding severely reduced.

“The funding for Brazil’s environment agency has gone down by 95% this year, it essentially gutted a large part of the actions that have been put in by the agricultural ministry,” University of Oxford ecosystem science professor Yadvinder Malhi told the BBC’s Today program, as BBC News reported.

“So the real thing is to look at the political direction of governance in the Amazon that’s changing under the new Brazilian government.

Many on Twitter applauded the move of Leo, who was actually putting his money where his mouth is. 

Ellen, along with many others on Twitter, were happy to see the actor put up such a large sum of money to combat the crisis. 

With that much money up, it would hopefully inspire others to take action and provide much needed aid to the fight. 

Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

Things That Matter

Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

Brazzil.com

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is largely responsible for Amazon deforestation reaching an 11-year high. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) determined deforestation reached 3,769 square miles, an increase of 29.5 percent over the course of a year. 

According to Al Jazeera, that’s the worst its been since 2008. Bolsonaro has been accused of weakening IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency in favor of further monetizing the Amazon region. The president’s rhetoric has allowed illegal felling of the forest to thrive without impunity by nefarious loggers, miners, and farmers. 

Activists hold Bolsonaro singularly responsible for deforestation.

“The Bolsonaro government is responsible for every inch of forest destroyed. This government today is the worst enemy of the Amazon,” Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace, said in a statement. 

According to Brazil’s Climate Observatory, the recent increase is the fastest it has been seen since the ’90s and the third-fastest ever. 

“In a break with what occurred in previous years during which the rate rose, this time the government did not announce any credible measures to reverse the trend,” the group told the New York Times. 

Bolsonaro used executive power immediately upon taking office to ensure that Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture oversees the regulation and creation of indigenous reserves. The decision, many believed, gave the agricultural industry a significant expansion of power to determine where new indigenous reserves could be located. 

Within months, the INPE noted an increase in fires across the Amazon from January to August 2019, more than in the agency’s history of tracking the fires which began in 2013. 

“It is no surprise this is happening because the president has defended environmental crime and promoted impunity,” Adriana Ramos of the Socio-environmental Institute told The Guardian.

Bolsonaro lashed out against the head of INPE, Ricardo Galvao by firing him after Galvao called the president a coward for attempting to undermine the legitimacy of deforestation satellite imagery. Bolsonaro has repeatedly called the agency’s figures false. This year, following the G7 summit in France, Bolsonaro rejected $20 million in aid to fight the forest fires. 

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles finally acknowledged the issue.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has often deflected or dismissed evidence of the deforestation increase, but finally acknowledged it, according to Reuters

“[The level of deforestation] is far from what we wanted, but it’s also far from the three-digit numbers that had been reported,” Salles said. 

He blamed the deforestation on the illegal acts of miners, ranchers, and loggers rather than the president, adding that Brazil needs “a sustainable economy alternative for that region of the Amazon.” Salles did not present any course of action to address the issue. Experts are not hopeful that Bolsonaro will improve the situation. 

“Proposals like legalizing land-grabbing, mining and farming on indigenous lands, as well as reducing the licensing requirements for new infrastructure will show that the coming years will be even worse,” Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, said. “The question is how long Brazil’s trading partners will trust its promises of sustainability and compliance with the Paris agreement, as forests fall, indigenous leaders are killed and environmental laws are shattered.”

Brazil and the rest of the planet need the Amazon.

The Amazon is the largest rainforest and largest river basin on the planet. There are more species there than anywhere else on Earth. Roughly 20 percent of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years due to agriculture, illegal logging and urbanization. Brazil’s draconian policy that allows farmers to burn down the forest to clear land, and now under Bolsonaro to due so illegally without being fined has contributed to this. 

“Fires mark one of the last stages in deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, an environmental professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais told the Washington Post. “First, the expensive wood is removed. Then, the bush is left to dry. Finally, fires are set to clear the land before grass can be planted for pasture.”

However, scientists note that whether you are an indigenous person displaced by the fires or in an entirely different country, this issue affects you directly. 

“Reforestation is essentially a way of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The existing forest is absorbing some carbon dioxide already,” Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, a tropical and conservation biologist told National Geographic. “In terms of the global carbon cycle, tropical forests have a carbon sink roughly equal to half of what is in the atmosphere. About half of that is in the Amazon. This means to lose the Amazon would dramatically increase climate change.” 

Dr. Lovejoy notes that all hope is not lost if the nine Amazon nations take a proactive approach the Amazon can be restored to 90 percent of what it was. Bolsanaro’s critics are not as hopeful.

A Former Brazilian President Was Just Released From Prison And Here’s What That Could Mean For The Country

Things That Matter

A Former Brazilian President Was Just Released From Prison And Here’s What That Could Mean For The Country

Henry Milleo / AP Images

A judge ordered the release of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, affectionately known as Lula, from prison today. Lula was sentenced to eight years and 10 months in prison in 2018, following a conviction on charges that he took bribes from engineering firms in exchange for government contracts. However, many Brazilians and officials felt Lula’s conviction was the result of corruption. 

The decision came after Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned a law that required convicts to be imprisoned if they lose their first appeal. The ruling could end up benefiting other high profile prisoners and thousands of other convicts, according to Al Jazeera, and was not met without detractors. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is freed from prison.

On Thursday, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided in a 6-5 vote that a person can only be imprisoned after they’ve exhausted every possible appeal to the higher courts. Lula, who is currently appealing his case, benefited from the new rule. 

“There are no grounds for the continuation of this provisional criminal enforcement,” Judge Danilo Pereira Júnior said.

The ruling could release almost 5,000 inmates who are currently appealing their convictions, according to The Guardian. 

In 2016, the courts operated on the premise that defendants who have been convicted can be imprisoned pending the decisions of any appeals. However, Brazil’s constitution states that no one can be labeled guilty unless due process is completed in its entirety. 

Justice Gilmar Mendes acknowledged that Lula’s involvement in the discourse overshadowed the discussion, but that overall it is good for the public, according to the Guardian. However, analysts say that incarcerating people before they have appealed gives authorities leverage to strike plea deals that can garner vital information. 

Many analysts are criticizing the new rule. 

The “Car Wash” operation, as it is nicknamed, that got Lula arrested, benefited from the rule. By trading plea deals that would keep convicts out of prison, prosecutors obtained information that allowed them to unravel a massive conspiracy of corruption that resulted in entrepreneurs and politicians being imprisoned for bribes and kickbacks. 

According to Al Jazeera, “The Car Wash prosecutors said the ruling would make their job harder and favor impunity because of Brazil’s ‘excessive’ appeal processes. They said in a statement that the court’s decision was out of sync with a country that wants an end to corruption.”

Not only are officials displeased with Lula’s release, but some Brazilians are also angry as well. 

“I’m not surprised, politicians rarely stay very long in jail,” Rivaldo Santos, a 43-year-old waiter in São Paulo, told The Associated Press. 

Brazilians rally in support of Lula’s release. 

Lula was a once-beloved conduit of change. The Bolsa Familia welfare program significantly reduced poverty in Brazil, and his policies created widespread economic growth. Lula left the office with an 80% approval rating, only to have his legacy tarnished by his involvement in the Car Wash operation. 

In a turning point over the summer, Brazilians were left stunned by allegations that prosecutors and a judge colluded together in the criminal investigation of Lula. Sergio Moro, the judge who convicted Lula, allegedly gave prosecutors strategic advice and tips during the investigation. 

“The judge’s relationship with prosecutors is scandalous,” the Intercept Brasil’s executive editor, Leandro Demori, told The Guardian. “This is illegal under Brazilian law.”

The revelations caused many to wonder if Lula had been wrongfully imprisoned altogether. Last year, Lula was the left-leaning presidential frontrunner only to have his imprisonment pave the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to snag the presidency. Thus, many Brazilians still revere Lula for the sweeping changes he brought to Brazil while wondering all that could have been.

“He is very happy and so are we,” Gilberto Carvalho, Lula’s former chief of staff and one of the leaders of the Workers Party, told The Washington Post. “We are pinching ourselves to make sure this is all true.”

Bernie Sanders and others praise the release of Lula.

“As President, Lula has done more than anyone to lower poverty in Brazil and to stand up for workers. I am delighted that he has been released from jail, something that never should have happened in the first place,” Sanders tweeted.  

“Lula is free. He walked out of Sergio Moro’s prison today, where he spent almost 2 years as a result of corrupted process conducted by a corrupt judge (now Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice and Public Security) and corrupt prosecutors,” journalist Glenn Greenwald said on Twitter. 

While Brazil was set on an entirely different course after Bolsonaro’s election, perhaps, Lula’s release can usher in needed change.

“[Lula] is eager to come out, but at the same time he is asking everyone to stay calm and be careful with provocations to keep an atmosphere of peace,” Carvalho said.