2019 Amazon Rainforest’s Fires, Ecocide and Blockchain

2019 Amazon Rainforest's Fires, Ecocide and Blockchain
2019 Amazon Rainforest’s Fires, Ecocide and Blockchain

The Amazon Rainforest, the lungs of panet earth, is burning. If you turn on the news, you will see reports about how flames are proliferating across the Amazon rainforest releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day and creating cross country smoke. If 2018 was annus horribilis in terms of climate disasters 2019 might surpass it. According to Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, 74,155 fires have been spotted in 2019 so far – an 84 per cent increase from the same period last year. Around one million indigenous people from up to 500 tribes are at risk.

If fires in themselves are terrible, the ongoing problem of illegal deforestation is what is at stake here. While stories and videos are posted everyday on social media, of animals fleeing the flames, fingers are pointed to ranchers as the responsible for organising “fire days” to get land ready for cattle pasture.

More than a soccer field’s worth of Amazon forest is falling every minute, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE. An article from the “Los Angeles Times”, mentions preliminary estimates from satellite data revealing that deforestation in June rose almost 90% compared with the same month last year, and by 280% in July.

Amazon deforestation in 2019 compared to 2018

The Amazon is a key component of Earth’s climate system. It holds about a quarter as much carbon as the entire atmosphere and single-handedly absorbs about 5% of all the CO2 we emit each year. Fires in the rainforest could deprive the world of a critical buffer against climate change.

If such rapid deforestation continues, it will contribute to the situation of climate urgency in which we live now. In some years, the Amazon as we know it, a lush rainforest, can be gone, and instead, we will have a dry, grassland. And that could bring catastrophic consequences not only for people in South America, but also for everyone around the world.

“We might be very, very close to the tipping point,” said Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil to the Los Angeles Times. And if we cross it, he said, “it’s irreversible.”

The reason for such a quick rate of defosteration is because Brazil is home to around 200 million cows. The world has now a growing global population of over 7.7 billion people which mostly eat meat. Brazil is the largest exporter of beef in the world, supplying one quarter of the global beef market to feed all this population. Cattle ranching and soy cultivation, are thus the reasons behind cleared areas of deforested rainfoirest.

Soy replaces cattle pasture in a yearly rotation, since its the largest source of protein for the world’s farm animals. Even if soy is popularly associated with a variety of dairy-free and meat-free products, such as the famous tofu and others, the bulk of the world’s soy is not consumed by people. Around 70 percent of the world’s soy is used to feed animals such as cows and only six percent of soy is turned into human food, which is mostly consumed in Asia.

The reason for such a quick rate of defosteration is because Brazil is home to around 200 million cows.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who was recently elected in a controversial election, is considered as one of the responsible for the tragic fires this year.

“The funding for Brazil’s environment agency has gone down by 95% this year, it [has] essentially gutted large part of the actions that have been put in by the agricultural ministry,” Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, told the BBC’s Today programme.

Unfortunately Bolsonaro reversed Brazil’s positive steps fighting deforestation. In 2004, the Brazilian government  designed more protected areas and reserves for indigenous people, and passed laws establishing fines and arrests for violators. This led to forest loss declining 75% by 2012. The opposite is happening now,  since Bolsonaro was elected, which is leading to strong outcry from the global media.

What can be done?

Amazon’s rainforest fires is just another strong reminder of the situation of urgency in terms of climate in which we live now, and the need to find solutions. Huge-scale and immediate action is needed to slash emissions, and yet that is not what is happening. Extreme weather, as the one provoking the fires we saw in Brazil, is increasing, and climate patterns established for millennia, are changing.

The need to make something about this at a global scale, is now so evident that some have put forward the idea that what we are facing is an ecocide. Ecocide describes attempts to criminalize human activities that cause extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems of a given territory; and which diminish the health and well-being of species within these ecosystems including humans.

To advance ecocide as a crime, Stop Ecocide was created. Stop Ecocide, is a growing international movement of Earth protectors based on a legal document, the Earth Protectors Trust Fund document.  The movement aims to amend international criminal law, so ecocide is recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court – alongside Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

Could blockchain contribute to saving the Amazon?

Supposedly bockchain technology, a new database technology which is supposedly safer and less corrupt,  could also help control the problem of deforestation in the Amazon. Some examples of blockchain initiatives focused on saving the Amazon include the work of a Brazilian company called Serpro, that created a blockchain platform to reduce fraudulent land titling in the Brazilian region of the rainforest for the purpose of the aforementioned soy and beef farming.

But it isn’t just the Amazon rainforest land that needs protecting. A video from The Economist in 2018, illustrated a promising future where blockchain technology could be used to diminish bio-piracy which takes advantage from the rainforest’s rich resources such as its biodiversity. Accoding to the video, bio-pirates are corrupt entities that take biological resources from rich places like the Amazon and make their fortunes of these resources. The countries of origin, the video state, are then left with both depleted resources, environmental issues, and no share in the gains.

The video advertises the project “The Amazon Bank of Codes“, stating how it is a collaboration between the World Economic Forum, the Earth Bank of Codes and the Earth Biogenome Project. Their ambitious and quite irrealistic goal is to assign and classify biological data from every species of plant and animal in the Amazon Basin, by introducing their genetic sequences on the blockchain. Registering these assets on the blockchain makes it possible to record and track these resources’ provenance and use. Theoretically,  it would thus be possible to trace where these resources go and create a platform for the fair sharing of the benefits with the country of origin.

The one behind the Amazon Bank of Codes, is a private entrepreneur. And as anything in life, a blockchain project truly depends on the values and true intentions of the ones behind. Are those interests driven by private profit goals or truly ethical desires ?

Blockchain could still be of value, yes,  if a Governmental project would be developed involving various stakeholders, including the indigenous communities living in the area. That is yet to be seen but we hold on to the hope.