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Fight these fires: What the Brazilian and American presidents must do to save the Amazon


This photo released by Mato Grosso Firefighters, shows the Chapada dos Guimaraes wild fires, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday said he might send the military to fight massive fires in the Amazon as an international outcry over his handling of the environmental crisis grows. (AP)

The photos are searing. The statistics are staggering. The costs are incalculable. The need for action is clear and present. The abdication of leaders who have the power to act is tragic, and cannot stand.

We speak of 40,000 fires that have raged across the precious Amazon rainforest in Brazil so far this year, and of a criminal failure to respond by President Jair Bolsonaro, a Trumpian populist who once nicknamed himself “captain chainsaw.”

The rainforest is not only home to 1 million people and 3 million species of plants and animals. It is the natural repository of a quarter of the carbon dioxide our planet currently produces. In case you’ve been encased in a block of ice these past two decades, carbon dioxide emissions drive climate change.

Some forest fires are natural; this year brought a dramatic spike, likely brought on by deforestation and Bolsonaro-incited arson, to clear land for cattle ranching. Bolsonaro does worse than yawn; he baselessly calls his critics firestarters, and says his government lacks the resources to put them out.

Recognizing the emergency, other countries’ leaders are using their economic leverage to try to save the Amazon. French President Emmanuel Macron threatens to scuttle a major trade deal.

If the U.S. president had the wisdom to take a break from denigrating Denmark and escalating a trade war with China, he might make a promised U.S.-Brazil free trade deal contingent on swift action to save a vital swath of Earth.

Then again, if Donald Trump had a modicum of wisdom, he wouldn’t be Donald Trump.