The failure to protect the environment and an outdated approach to economic development are the main factors behind the fiery "holocaust" raging in the Amazon region, Brazil's most prominent environmentalist said here Monday.
"The lack of commitment to the most important tropical rainforest on the planet" has combined with "a mistaken vision of development, which wants to reproduce in the 21st century the same pattern of development of the beginning of the 20th century," Marina Silva told Efe ahead of a sustainable development conference in Quito.
"We know about the grave global environmental crisis," she said, adding that desertification has already created more than 150 million "environmental refugees."
Silva, who served as Brazil's environment minister from 2003-2008, placed some blame for the current situation in the Amazon on the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has rolled back environmental regulation and called for expanding both agriculture and extractive industries in the region.
But above all, she said, it is "climate change that threatens the planet's equilibrium," made worse by "populist" politicians who encourage settlers in the Amazon to persist in outmoded practices such as using fires to clear land for planting.
One way to disincentivize such practices would be to create "a certification process" that allows agricultural producers who eschew burning to command higher prices for their products, Silva said.
The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared with the same time last year.
The INPE said in a report released on Aug. 20 that 52.5 percent of the 71,497 fires registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 were in the Amazon region.
Silva, who has run for president three times on an environmental platform, warned that another fire-season of the magnitude of this year's could push the Amazon beyond the point of "no return."
"That's why it is important to apply all necessary measures to impede that systemic imbalance," she said, pointing to Bolsonaro's policies as having contributed to the "pernicious potion that led to this environmental holocaust."
After addressing a gathering in Quito sponsored by the Latin American Future Foundation, Silva plans to return to Brazil and consult with politicians, activists and academic experts on the drafting of a proposal to Congress for addressing the crisis in the Amazon.
As an activist, Silva won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for South & Central America in 1996. In 2007, the United Nations Environment Program named the then-environment minister as one of the Champions of the Earth. EFE