“Amid political strife and smoke visible from space, the future of the Amazon has rarely been so hazy. Environmentalists see a vanishing rainforest of global consequence. Indigenous leaders see an ancestral home still being exploited by settlers after 500 years of genocidal violence. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, sees valuable acreage wasted by “cave men” and Marxists.
Sixty percent of the world’s largest tropical forest lies within Brazil’s borders, and since 2006 I’ve traveled thousands of miles in the Amazon, witnessing how the river and its people have experienced a century’s worth of ecological and cultural change in a generation. For a few weeks last year, record-setting fires in the region focused the world’s attention with an intensity reminiscent of the Save the Rainforest campaigns of the 1980s, but this year, the land is burning during a pandemic that has interrupted travel, stymied environmental protection efforts, and emboldened miners, loggers and ranchers to encroach on Indigenous land with impunity.”