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How America should approach the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is famous for being the largest rainforest in the world. The rainforest is more than 2.3 million square miles large and is biologically diverse with millions of species of bugs and thousands of species of plants and animals choosing it as their home. The Amazon is also important not only to the plants and animals who live there (and the people who do), but it's important to everybody as it contains 10% of the carbon stores in the world. A carbon store is an ecological feature that removes carbon from the environment, thereby preventing it from entering into the ecosystem and accelerating global warming

Deforestation has been an issue in every society with forests to cut down. It should be remembered that North America and Western Europe, the two parts of the world that have consistently seen the highest levels of environmental activism, are also some of the most deforested areas in the world. 

Fortunately, because of the advocacy of early conservationists such as American President Theodore Roosevelt, much of America’s natural beauty has been conserved. In Europe, there were also great leaps towards conservatism, but due to the longer length of the deforestation, much less has been conserved. 

Today, a key point of focus is the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. For all of the aforementioned reasons, the preservation of the Amazon rainforest is clearly a virtuous act. The destruction of the home of countless species of wildlife and indigenous tribes who still call it home is inherently malicious. While I am not a scientist, it also seems reasonable to assume that the removal of the rainforest could have a very negative impact on the environment. 

However, as this is a world of nations, and not the American empire, even if many actors within the United States and Western Europe wish for it was, as the majority of the Amazon is located in Brazil, to adopt their approach America cannot force Brazil’s hand. 

Using its position in the world, it could also apply diplomatic pressure, attempting to make Brazil a pariah state based on its policy and claiming that the destruction of the Amazon is a crime against humanity, as isn’t all of humanity affected by climate change? 

Due to the size of America’s economy, it can apply a great deal of pressure to Brazil if it desires to. It can apply sanctions, even an embargo on Brazilian products or freeze the assets of Brazilian firms it views to be environmentally harmful. 

And of course, at the most extreme level, the United States could use force to change Brazil’s policy. Either the more clandestine option of using its vast intelligence services to install a leader with favorable policy (as it has in countless South American nations during the heights of the Cold War) or in an even more extreme case deciding on a direct military intervention. It would not be the first time the United States has invaded a nation over disagreement on how to use natural resources

None of these options would work, however, although the United States is still by leagues and bounds the most powerful nation in the world. The unipolar moment, as some have called the time period between the end of the Cold War and approximately 2017-2018, in which the United States was the world’s only superpower, has ended. 

China is by most accounts a superpower, even if it is not yet at the level of power, wealth or influence of the United States, and Russia has recovered mostly from its post-Cold war collapse. This is not to mention the countless other regional players such as India or Indonesia and regional associations such as the European Union and ASEAN, the former which seems to increasingly desire to distance itself from the United States.

Isolationism, although understandable, is also not a reasonable approach because the existence of the Amazon does affect America.

The only approach that may have a chance of working to save the Amazon is quite simply treating the Brazilians as equals and negotiating. Under more right-wing governments, such as that of Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation was a method of economic development. Offering greater investments and favorable trade deals could be a carrot to change behavior. What is clear is that centuries of colonialism and coups have only succeeded in creating resentment not just in Brazil but in all of South America, and a different approach is necessary if saving the Amazon matters enough to try something new. 

Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

1 Comment

Ella Song
Ella Song
Jun 11

Great article, Mason! The last sentence is powerful—"a different approach is necessary if saving the Amazon matters enough to try something new." Super interesting!

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