“Our house is burning,” was arguably the most quoted phrase of French President Emanuel Macron’s request to the seven most powerful countries in the world to include the fires that are devastating the Amazon forest, the source of 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen, in this weekend’s G7 agenda.
On Friday, Crux spoke with Brazilian Jesuit Father Roberto Malvezzi, member of the team of assessors for REPAM Brazil, meaning the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network, that is playing a key role in the preparation for the upcoming summit of bishops on the Amazon basin, to be held in Rome next October.
The priest defined the situation that went viral last week after almost three weeks of fires as an “apocalyptic, Dantesque, dreadful phenomenon.”
By the time the interview was conducted, 2,100 acres had burned in Bolivia, while “half of Brazil” was on fire, according to scientists, who estimated the devastation grew by three soccer fields a minute.
Crux: What impact could the fires have on the Amazon population?
Malvezzi: The impacts of the burns fall on the entire Amazonian community of life: the vegetation, the animals, and all the people who inhabit this vast territory. In these spaces there is the extinction of all burnt vegetation, animals have also been burned, their habitats burned, and human families have often had to move out of their places, or breathe the smoke that hangs in the air for days.
But it is important to say that the impact goes far beyond the Amazon territory. Winds from the north are pushing the famous flying rivers down the continent, into northern Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The case was so serious that in broad daylight, the city of Sao Paulo turned into night due to the thickness of smoke mixed with pollution and other natural clouds.
A truly apocalyptic, Dantesque, dreadful phenomenon has arisen.
How can Catholics from around the world help?
The problem concerns the whole of humanity, the entire community of life that inhabits planet Earth should be worried. The first step is always to become aware, perhaps to become brothers in solidarity, to spread the cause of the Amazon region in dioceses, parishes, communities; foment debates and protest against the policies of the Brazilian government, as well as protest against the economic agents of agribusiness and mining companies. In fact, there is a lot of action to be taken here, such as pressuring companies with headquarters in Europe, the United States or other parts of the world that are also part of the process of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Whoever buys Brazilian soy and meat, whoever imports wood or ore, also has responsibility for what is happening.
But, as [late Archbishop] Helder Camara already said, even though as Christians we’re not better than anyone, we should be more responsible. Pope Francis insists on caring for our Common Home. He calls for an ecological conversion, to overcoming the culture of death and throwaway culture, urging us to learn to contemplate the gospel of creation.
Christians being more responsible is key. However, we need to act in tandem with all people of good will, those who seek justice and who hold sensitivity to the vital elements of nature, where everything is interconnected.
What would you say to those who don’t believe in climate change, many of whom are Christians, on the importance of the Amazon for humanity’s survival?
There are five major gifts from the Amazon to much of humanity and the entire earth:
First, the water cycle. For Latin Americans who live east of the Andes, going to the southeastern and southern states of Brazil, but also including northern Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, we need to know that without the Amazon there is no rain and this region will become desert, as other regions of the world, at the same latitude are, such as the Atacama, the Namibian desert and the Australian desert. Our Southern Cone alone is not deserted because the winds from the north push the rainforest clouds south. Therefore, for much of the world and humanity, there is life only if there is the Amazon rainforest.
Second, the carbon cycle. The forest captures billions of tons of carbon that - once burned - will increase the greenhouse effect, although forest burning is not the only cause. Today it is incorrect to say that the Amazon is the lung of the world, because its metabolism is continuous and it feeds itself. But the amount of carbon caught in trees is fabulous, and once released, it goes into the atmosphere to put pressure on global warming.
Third, the regulation of the earth’s climate. By releasing moisture, by fixing a large amount of carbon, the Amazon influences the climate of much of the earth, particularly the Latin American continent and the containment of global warming.
Fourth, the biodiversity. There are scientific data that inform us that the Amazon biome has the largest biodiversity per meter of the planet. This biodiversity holds essences, medicinal principles, foods, etc. until today not properly studied and much less cataloged. In an increasingly sick world, this biodiversity may be the active ingredient needed for many medicines.
Fifth, sociodiversity. The native peoples of the forest have managed to live on it without destroying it for millennia. So, even in Pope Francis’s view, these peoples hold a deep and fruitful wisdom that can help contemporary humanity find a new paradigm of civilization, where we can live well among ourselves and the nature of which we are a part.
Seeing the destruction that the fire leaves in its wake, does the synod become more relevant?
The synod is really a Kairos, a breath of the Spirit. It looks like it was programmed by the Holy Spirit for the right time in the right place. It is at this very moment, when the destruction intensifies, that the synod takes place. Almost 100,000 people were consulted ahead of the bishop’s meeting.
The motto is “Amazon: new ways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” Either humanity moves from binary thinking to complex thinking, where everything is interconnected, in an integral ecology, or we will destroy the foundations of life. It is always worth remembering that the earth exists without us, but to be here and now, it had to be prepared as a mother’s womb, so that all living conditions for the human being were fulfilled.
We cannot destroy the earth, but we can destroy the conditions that life offers us.
They say that we know when a prophetic gesture begins, but we never know where it ends. The synod is a prophecy that we see beginning, but we do not know what its consequences will be and what its fruits will be.
I have only one conviction: they will be abundant and generous like the Amazon itself.