As the rainforest continues to burn, environmental group Offset Earth is demonstrating against Jair Bolsonaro’s destructive environmental policies with a ‘protest forest’
Devastating fires continue to burn in the Amazon rainforest. As the situation worsens, Brazil’s leaders scramble to avert blame, falsely claiming things are under control. One person widely – and rightly – being criticised is president Jair Bolsonaro, whose far-right government is arguably to blame due to its consistent encouragement of illegal deforestation.
Self-declared homophobe Bolsonaro has baselessly claimed environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are the ones who started the blazes in order to humiliate the Brazilian government. At a press conference, he told reporters: “Regarding the fires in the Amazon, I am under the impression that it could have been set by the NGOs because they had asked for money. What was their intention? To bring about problems for Brazil.”
Despite Bolsonaro absurd suggestion, it’s been largely acknowledged that deforestation (humans burning forests to clear the land for agriculture) and a practice called slash and burn (cutting forested land and burning the remaining vegetation) are to blame for the fires, of which there have been 26,000 in August alone – the highest figure in nine years.
One group protesting Bolsonaro’s reckless ideologies and libelous claims is tree-planting subscription service Offset Earth. The organisation is planting trees in the president’s name in a crowd-funded ‘protest forest’ in Madagascar.
“We initially planted 1,000 trees in Bolsonaro’s name as our own form of protest,” Offset Earth’s co-founder Elliot Coad said in a statement, “but planting ‘protest trees’ has clearly become a way for anyone to join the reforestation movement, while at the same time focusing on a global voice of dissent against him and his treatment of our rainforests.”
Bolsonaro is regarded by the organisation as ‘tree enemy number one’, and, at the time of writing, has had over 17,000 trees planted in his name, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2.33 tonnes – the equivalent to 147 days of home electricity usage.
The far-right figure was elected as Brazil’s president in October 2018, much to the dismay of progressives. Since his rise to power, there has been an 82 per cent increase in reported fires compared to the previous year. In the first 26 days of this month, the Amazon lost 430 square miles due to fires – an area equivalent to the size of Hong Kong. A climate denier, Bolsonaro has promoted the exploitation of the Amazon since his inauguration, without concern for indigenous tribes being displaced. Dubbed the ‘Trump of the Tropics’ (also now the ‘Boris of Brazil’?), the president deployed the army to help tackle the blazes last week, and yesterday banned land clearance fires for 60 days, seemingly in an attempt to fend off critique over his previous environmental action.
“We can’t undo all the devastation caused by the rainforest fires in the Amazon, or by Bolsonaro’s policies, but together we can make a positive difference while also making our voices heard” – Elliot Coad, Offset Earth
Though social media has been awash with informative articles about the Amazon fires, the situation needs action as well as awareness. Established just two months ago, Offset Earth is determined to make a difference. “Of course, we can’t undo all the devastation caused by the rainforest fires in the Amazon, or by Bolsonaro’s policies,” Coad continued. “But together we can make a positive difference while also making our voices heard.”
As well as a place to donate trees, Offset Earth’s website also enables subscribers to monitor their individual carbon footprint, and see the trees and forests they’ve helped plant. Scientists believe that tree planting has “mind-blowing potential” to tackle the climate crisis, with research finding forest restoration to be the number one solution. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. If fossil fuel burning and deforestation stopped, it would take 50 to 100 years for reforestation to have its full effect of removing 200 billion tonnes of carbon.
“Our mission at Offset Earth is to eventually overtake deforestation with reforestation,” Coad concluded, “and plant a crowd-funded forest big enough to be visible from space.” If people continue to plant trees in Bolsonaro’s name, this dream could become a reality – annoying the hell out of Bolsonaro would simply be a perk.