Things That Matter

Brazil’s Government Is Wrong About The Amazon Fires And This Proves It

The Amazon rainforest in South America has been burning for more than two weeks. The majority of the fires are located in Brazil, but neighboring Bolivia has also been affected. Fires in this time of the year are common, but they are usually controllable and die off when rain comes. 

This year is different: climate change, experts argue, has translated into a drier summer spell, which is to blame for the severity of the fires. The incendios are also a result of human action, as they are often used as a method of clearing land for farming and industrial purposes. This time, however, things have gotten out of control. 

The Amazon, which works as our planet’s lungs, are experiencing unprecedented fires.

Credit: Instagram. @costa.vicentina.oficial

Experts argue that the massive South American rainforest provides around 20% of the world’s oxygen. As reported by The Sun, if the Amazon is threatened a process of “dieback” could be triggered. This means that the rainforest would spew carbon back into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change. British researchers have said that “If 20 per cent of Brazil’s rainforest perished it could exacerbate this process in such a way which would dry trees, leaving them unable to absorb as much carbon and making it more flammable and likely to spread fires”. So this could actually be the beginning of the end. 

So how bad is it? 

Credit: Instagram. @maribricenod

In short: pretty damn awful. There are more than 70,000 fires burning as you read this. The amount of smoke is so huge that one of Brazil’s biggest cities, Sao Paolo, has been covered by a dark cloud. The sun is nowhere to be seen. As The Economist reports: “Social-media users posted pictures of the gloom, juxtaposing the dystopian afternoon sky with fictional apocalyptic places such as Gotham City from Batman, Mordor from Lord of the Rings and “the upside down” from Stranger Things”. 

Las cosas se encuentran de la fregada, to be honest.

Credit: Twitter. @WMO

The World Meteorological Organization, the United Nation’s weather arm, tweeted about the fires Thursday: “Fires release pollutants including particulate matter & toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides  and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere”. The organization has also been updating satellite imagery of the fires which shows the extent of the damage. Half of Brazil is covered in smoke. 

The main culprits: the cattle and logging industries.

Credit: Twitter. @DaniRabaiotti

Wildfires in the Amazon are not natural events at all. They are caused by two main factors: droughts, a product of climate change, and human industrial activities. The farming industry often starts these fires (sometimes illegally) to clear land for animals to roam. The logging industry is also to blame, as an article in The Conversation explains: “These changes are exacerbated by ‘selective logging’ of specific tree species, which opens up the canopy and further dries out the understory and forest edges, which are drier than the interiors. The result: normally fire-proof rainforests become flammable”. Yes, profit is the force behind the deadly force of fire. 

And obviously environmentalists and activists are muy encabronados!

Credit: Twitter. @MuseWendi

Wildfires concern us all. They will affect the prospects of human survival on Earth for generations to come. To be honest, we should all be very upset about this. 

The whole world should be paying attention, but if you Google “Amazon Fire” this is what you get

Credit: Screenshot. Google Search. 

Seriously. Algorithmic searching does not always work best when it comes to raising awareness on important issues that concern the whole of humanity. As digital natives, we experience news events according to our own media consumption, so we risk living in a bubble where everything seems fine while the world is quite literally on fire. 

Yeah, Notre Dame sure is an icon, but the Amazon keeps the planet alive.

Credit: Instagram. @maribricenod

Sure, the Notre Dame cathedral, which was severely damaged by a fire on April 15, is an icon of Western Europe and a source of pride for France. When the building was burning down, millions of people took on social media to send prayers and express their alarm. The response to the Amazonian fire has been small in comparison, which begs the question: what do we value more, culture or nature? Food for thought!

The fires are a sort of apocalypse for indigenous Brazilians.

Credit: Twitter. @karielaing

The Amazon is inhabited by indigenous populations that have survived centuries of colonization and pillaging first by the Portuguese and then by corporations and the Brazilian government. These fires spell disaster for original owners of the land, whose home and survival is at risk. They blame industry and indiscriminate land clearing for the disaster. 

The Internet is pretty angry at Brazil’s new president, the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, who suggested that NGOs might have started the fires! 

Seriously, WTAF! Even if he has since somewhat retracted from what he said, Bolsonaro has said that the fires are being set by his critics to make him look bad. He said: “The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations. There are images of the entire Amazon. How can that be? Everything indicates that people went there to film and then to set fires. That is my feeling”.

Pretty egocentric, eh? No wonder he is often compared to Donald J. Trump. In the latest developments, Bolsonaro has said that his country does not have the resources to fight the fire. Damn. 

The fires could accelerate climate change, according to the UN, but the Brazilian government seems to be ignoring the extent of the catastrophe.

Credit: Instagram. @amnistiapt

The United Nations and European countries such as France are now raising their voices, urging the Brazilian government to act. As reported by Agence France Press: “France’s President Emmanuel Macron said the wildfires were “an international crisis” and called on the globe’s most industrialized nations to address it at their summit this weekend”. 

Macron said on Twitter: “Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen is burning”. 

Bolsonaro’s response? He criticized the UN and France for having a “colonialist mentality”. El burro hablando de orejas. 

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Blamed Leonardo DiCaprio For The Amazon Fires, Now The Actor Claps Back

Entertainment

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Blamed Leonardo DiCaprio For The Amazon Fires, Now The Actor Claps Back

Amazon Front

During a webcast President Jair Bolsonaro blamed the Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio for causing the increase in Amazon forest fires. The controversial rightwing president seemed to think the cause of the depleting rainforest is nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). CNN noted that Bolsonaro went on the rant “providing no evidence to support the accusation.”

DiCaprio has a long history of supporting environmental causes and has pledged $5 million to save the Amazon. According to the BBC, Bolsonaro has made four arrests — despite a lack of evidence — that some volunteer firefighters were starting fires to use the images to solicit donations for NGOs. 

Bolsonaro calls Leonardo DiCaprio out for allegedly donating half a million to an NGO. 

“The NGO people, what did they do? What’s easier? Set fire to the bush,” Bolsonaro said in a webcast. “Take photo, film, send it to an NGO, the NGO spreads it out, does a campaign against Brazil, gets in touch with Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonardo DiCaprio donates $500,000 to this NGO. One part went to the people who were setting the fire, right?”

Bolsonaro essentially blamed DiCaprio for participating in an unsubstantiated conspiracy to set the Amazon rainforest on fire to accrue donations to save it. 

“Leonardo DiCaprio, you are assisting with the burning of the Amazon, that can’t be,” Bolsonaro continued in the bizarre rant.

Bolsonaro’s accusations seem to stem from a disputed social media conspiracy that the World Wildlife Fund paid volunteer firefighters to set fire to the Amazon and take photos.

However, NGOs are saying Bolsonaro’s accusations were politically motivated and the law enforcement sting was harassing the environmental groups when it arrested the volunteer firefighters. Despite opposition, the president continued to blame the actor. 

“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said the following day. 

DiCaprio responds to Bolsonaro on Instagram. 

“At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage. They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment. The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them,” DiCaprio stated.

DiCaprio denied even having any ties or donating to the World Wildlife Fund. The World Wildlife Fund also denied receiving any money from DiCaprio. The actor’s foundation, named after himself and created in 1998, is dedicated to combating climate change. In 2018, DiCaprio’s foundation said it would match recurring donations for the entire year of 2019. 

“While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted. I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians,” the actor said. 

This isn’t the first time Bolsonaro has claimed that NGOs, rather than illegal farming and logging, is the cause of the deforestation in the Amazon. In August, he said “everything indicates,” NGOs were starting the fires, according to Reuters. 

Two major organizations issue statements regarding Bolsonaro’s attack on NGOs. 

Two of the largest environmental groups in the Amazon, Global Wildlife Conservation and IUCN Species Survival Commission released statements calling out the president. 

“We are alarmed by recent events that seek to undermine this progress. In the past few days, false accusations have been made to undermine environmental defenders and distract the general public from policies that directly lead to environmental disasters like those across the Amazon earlier this year,” GWC said in a statement. 

The IUCN also defended NGOs and environmental activists from the ire of the rightwing leader saying, “environmental defenders, whether in local communities, NGOs, or government agencies, should be afforded with the highest protection of the law in Brazil.” 

Activists speak out against Bolsonaro’s continued targeting of environmental groups. 

Bolsonaro decreased NGO funding after taking office. Under his administration, Amazon fires have peaked, increasing by 83%, with INPE recording 72,843 fires in 2019 as of August. Many advocates believe Bolsonaro’s attacks are a diversion from his administration’s negligence and considerable dismantling of protections for the rainforest. 

“This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement,” Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator, told Reuters. “Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy.”

The increase in fires is more accurately attributed to farmers clearing the land for cattle — an act Bolsonaro seemed to encourage.

“NGOs working in the Amazon do not use fire in farming. On the contrary, they encourage rural communities to avoid fire,” climate scientist, Carlos Nobre, told Reuters. 

Tech Companies Like Apple And Facebook Are Putting Billions Of Dollars Toward Affordable Housing, A Crisis They Created

Things That Matter

Tech Companies Like Apple And Facebook Are Putting Billions Of Dollars Toward Affordable Housing, A Crisis They Created

Unsplash

It’s no hidden secret that affordable housing has become a growing crisis on the West Coast. Cities like San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle have all seen tech giants come into communities and play a big role when it comes to the huge spike in the cost of living. While Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon have contributed to economic success in these areas, there is a large portion of middle and lower-class residents, mostly Latino and Blacks, who aren’t seeing any of that growth. With an increasing number of tech workers coming into these cities, rising home and rent costs have followed. That in return has created a housing crisis for many.

 In recent months, these tech companies have finally spoken up about the problem by pledging to spend money on building affordable housing in their respective communities. Back in June, Google announced $1 billion while Facebook pledged another $1 billion in October. Apple, earlier this month, said it would devote $2.5 billion. Yet there is increased skepticism and concerns that throwing money at this issue won’t solve anything. 

Tech companies like Google and Amazon have brought in billions of dollars in local tax revenue in cities like San Jose and Seattle. But that success has also created a housing issue for many that can’t afford to live there anymore. 

The rise of these giant tech companies has also meant a rise in the cost of living in the nearby cities that they’re located in. That is evident when looking at the economics of the housing markets and the number of people moving into these communities. Over the last decade, there was an 8.4 percent increase in the total population of the Bay Area, which includes San Francisco and San Jose, but during that same period, the number of housing units grew by less than 5 percent. 

Even as new homes are being built, the prices have become more of a reflection of the new demographic coming in. According to NBC, “Software engineers earn a starting salary of about $160,000 at Apple, Google, and Facebook, 40 percent more than the national average for the same job.”

Many middle-class Latinos and Black families have struggled to find affordable housing in these tech cities and as a result, many are now homeless.  

 Credit: Unsplash

The sight of homelessness and giant RV’s parked on city streets has become an image too familiar in San Jose as many have turned to living out of their cars. In the Bay Area, the issue of homelessness has only been expedited by the rise in home and rent prices which can be attributed to the tech industry in the area. As of now, the Bay Area has the third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness. Ahead of it is New York and Los Angeles, with Seattle just behind. 

What has become evident is that one specific population of people is benefitting from these economic and social gains while others has been somewhat been forgotten. Tamara Mitchell, a volunteer at the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco, is one of those that feels like the city has turned it’s back on people like her. 

“It kind of feels like they’re pushing you out of your home,” Mitchell told CNBC. “We’ve been homeless, we’ve been staying in hotels, we’ve been staying with family members – it’s been a lot.”

Making matters worse is the lack of opportunity for some when it comes to those trying to gain from the economic benefits in the area. When it comes to hiring, the most common demographic tech companies hired in 2018 were white and Asian male-identified individuals. Last year, Google employed 95 percent white or Asian individuals and 74 percent of those hired were male. The same trend followed at Apple as the same figures came in at 84 percent and 77 percent, respectively. In return, this has left most of the remaining jobs as lower-wage positions with limited opportunities with the majority of these roles being taken by Latinos and Blacks.  

“We’re being ignored,” Liz González, a contributor at Silicon Valley De-Bug, told CNBC about rising concerns of Google in the Bay Area. “We’re being displaced, and folks who have no long term interests in this community get to decide what it looks like and who gets to live here.”

As these tech companies have made a commitment to try and address the affordable housing crisis in their communities, many wonder if it’s enough or too late altogether. 

Credit: Unsplash

As the more than $4.5 billion in corporate contributions towards affordable housing has been announced, money still may not be enough to fix the problem. Experts say addressing issues like rewriting zoning and permit regulations from local governments, building various housing options besides single-family homes and public transportation alternatives. 

What these tech companies have also realized is that retaining and attracting new employees will become an increasingly prominent issue as housing and rent prices continue to soar. While there is skepticism that affordable housing in the Bay Area and Seattle can be fixed in the near future, some are relieved to finally seeing tech companies acknowledge that there is a problem.

“I don’t think any tech company that has made these new announcements are really thinking their single contribution is solving the housing crisis,” said Kevin Zwick, CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, told CBS. “It doesn’t solve the entire problem, but the fact that they’re joining is a big, important, positive step to getting us to solve the crisis.”

READ: There’s No Mexican Christmas Without Posadas: We Rounded Up 11 Facts About Them That You Probably Never Knew About