Brazil Spurns $20 Million In Aid To Fight Amazon Wildfires As Fears Of Global Climate Impact Mount
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazil on Monday rejected aid from G-7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon, with a top official telling French President Emmanuel Macron to take care of "his home and his colonies." About 80,000 forest fires have broken out in Brazil since the beginning of the year — just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin that regulates part of Earth's carbon cycle and climate.
That is fueling concerns that further damage from the fires could disrupt global weather patterns. CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez says about 15% of the Earth's fresh water is in the Amazon. There's so much moisture, scientists say it actually helps cool the entire planet.
With the fires burning a lot of that away, there's fear it could eventually cause irreversible damage to the world's climate. It is estimated that more than 3,500 square miles of Amazon forest have been scorched by fire this year. That's an area about the size of Yellowstone National Park.
G-7 countries made the $20 million aid offer to fight the blazes at the Biarritz summit hosted by Macron, who insisted they should be discussed as a top priority.
"We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe," Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website.
"Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site," he added, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral. "What does he intend to teach our country?"
Brazilian environment Minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G-7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 2.3 million acres and prompted the deployment of the army.
A colonialist "objective"?
But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course.
"Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron," Lorenzoni said.
Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of eight other countries or territories. Hundreds of new fires have flared up in the Brazilian part of the forest, data showed Monday, even as military aircraft dumped water over hard-hit areas.
Bolsonaro -- a climate-change skeptic -- has faced criticism over his delayed response to the fires at home and thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil in recent days to denounce the destruction.
The blazes have also fueled a diplomatic spat between Bolsonaro and Macron, who have locked horns repeatedly over the past week. The French president has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America unless his Brazilian counterpart takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.
Bolsonaro reacted by blasting Macron for having a "colonialist mentality," and days later endorsed vicious personal comments about the French president's wife posted online, driving their relationship to a new low.