New Zealand’s hypocrisy on the burning of the Amazon

I find it hypocritical that we blast Brazil for clearing land to develop agriculture when our record over the last 800 years, and particularly since European settlement has been no better.

Hundreds of years ago Maori cleared vast swathes of Aotearoa to clear land for their agriculture. Back then they had no way of controlling the fires and they could often burn for days or weeks depending on rain and soil conditions. Landcare research estimates that about 50% of New Zealand’s known forest was cleared around 750-800 years ago.

And then starting in the 1800s still more was cleared by European settlers to make way for sheep, crop and dairy farming. If one maps the land that was covered in vegetation in 1850 and compare it with an equivalent map from 2000, they will see that in those 150 years massive vegetation loss occurred.

I understand that times have changed and that our knowledge of our environmental desecration and the impacts it is having is much better than it used to be. I know that the Amazon rainforests provide 17% of our oxygen but does this not seem rather rich for a country that has had its own share of land clearance to be telling Brazil what it can do? Shouldn’t we really be asking how we can help Brazil develop its agriculture without tearing up the Amazon?

My biggest problem with the West is we moralize about how other countries behave and we tell them to do this/that. But when it comes to leading by example the West is an abysmal failure. When it could be helping with education programmes and developing new farming methods, it is instead lecturing from a distance. We do nothing to help them on their way and when they start making progress, we take the credit for having got them to make the change.

I also note that large scale clearing is going on in other countries as well, but I do not hear a rush to criticize Indonesia, or equatorial African nations. I do not see anyone rushing to criticize Papua New Guinea for the loss of forest there even though its proximity as a neighbouring country in the southwest Pacific makes it more immediately relevant than Brazil. The former is causing another air pollution crisis in Malaysia, where smoke from burning fires in Indonesia has become a medical hazard. Indonesia’s vast 13,000 island archipelago is difficult to police even if Indonesia had the best police force in the world.

Or is our outrage going to be selective?

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