Unless anyone has been under a rock, the world has discovered that not only is the Amazon on fire, but it was on fire for weeks before anyone acknowledged it and spread awareness. Simultaneously, we all discovered that Siberian forests, Alaskan forests, Indonesian forests, Angolan forests, and parts of the Congo are on fire. The only news outlet that has apologized for not making the information known so far has been The Young Turks; all of the other outlets are still covering the wealthy people who pay them. The New York Times has been steadily writing about how the racism of the effects of climate change will alter everyone’s reality, but not truly focusing on the fires themselves, which will immediately degrade the atmosphere.
This is not the first time Brazil has been under international scrutiny. In 2016, there was an international athletic competition that seems inspiring to some and wasteful to others: the Olympics. As someone who has done triathlons before, I remember hearing my fellow triathletes talking about the dangers of the water and how it was concerning that people would be swimming in that dirty water. US Olympian Ryan Lochte also made headlines when he fabricated a story about being held at gunpoint while spending time in Rio de Janeiro. All the time I was hearing about those stories, I remember thinking, “But what about the people who live there? Is the dirty water fine for them to drink? Are they all regularly being held at gunpoint?”
When it was discovered that the forest fires had been set by people looking for grazing lands, people could not wait to sanctimoniously discuss veganism and vegetarianism. “If people would stop eating meat, then none of this would be happening,” they smugly proclaimed, forgetting that mining, logging, and land “development” were all reasons that the wealthy use to exploit the land. Once again, the poor communities inundated with fastfood were being cast as the villains in the eyes of the dominant narrative. “If only those people knew how to eat and wanted to get involved with community gardens,” lamented the elite. “They should learn how to prepare their own food and stop buying all that processed crap!”
To them I would say this: what did those with authority do to ensure that distressed communities were not flooded with fastfood? What did local governments do to ensure that there would be jobs other than fastfood and gas stations within those communities? Kind of like the condescension regarding financial investments, it becomes more bullying to look down on people when businesses have shaped the impression of certain communities rather than the people themselves. To put it bluntly, people with all the autonomy are taking cues from those with power and resources instead of talking to the marginalized populations themselves. No residents asked for all poor neighborhoods to have the same businesses that steel themselves against their surrounding neighbors. People saw those franchises taking over, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “If they didn’t want it, those businesses wouldn’t be there,” while trotting off to open boutiques and bakeries.
When people of color raise chickens or grow food, they are seen as primitive, whereas gardening and farming are now becoming trendy for the elite. Meat has been promoted as a symbol of wealth for generations; all native diets are vegetarian and/or vegan because people had to eat whether they were able to hunt successfully or not. The fires were not started because of stupid people not knowing that there are other foods than burgers, chicken and steaks. The fires were started because it is the general consensus that land populated by certain populations is fine for the taking. “Those people” do not matter, should have no power, and they would be lost if given such autonomy despite constantly keeping governments in litigation to protect their lands and cultures. It is acceptable for “environmental activists” to ignore those most intimately connected with the ecosystems of the world when fighting for the protection of what I call “character communities.” Maybe when everyone realizes that the fires are Indigenous genocide, it will become clear that violating marginalized populations is not the choice of those populations, but for those populations.