There are many reasons the rise of right-wing populism is global threat, but perhaps the most lasting—and worrying—impact the ascendancy of this new breed of nihilist, know-nothing leader will have is on the environment. At the very moment when human ingenuity and collective will are required to stave off serious climate consequences, we have a rising tide of global leadership that believes in nothing. They certainly don’t believe in something they can’t touch or sell or kill—or understand. The deep cynicism of the likes of President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro comes at a time when belief, political bravery, and transformative leadership are required. But instead of big, broad-minded thinking, we get a president in Brazil who’s setting fire to the Amazonian rainforest for sport and an American president who, well, doesn’t believe in anything he can’t pawn.
It seems unsurprising, then, that a week after Brazil’s space agency announced that fires in the Amazon were burning at a record rate—an 83 percent increase from before Bolsonaro took power—to the tune of 72,843 fires detected so far this year, on Tuesday we hear that the Trump administration is reportedly pushing to open up Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, to logging, mining, and energy extraction. “President Trump has instructed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt Alaska’s 16.7-million-acre Tongass National Forest from logging restrictions imposed nearly 20 years ago, according to three people briefed on the issue, after privately discussing the matter with the state’s governor aboard Air Force One,” the Washington Post reports.
“Politicians have tussled for years over the fate of the Tongass, a massive stretch of southeastern Alaska replete with old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar, rivers running with salmon, and dramatic fjords,” according to the Post. “President Bill Clinton put more than half of it off limits to logging just days before leaving office in 2001, when he barred the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest across the country. President George W. Bush sought to reverse that policy, holding a handful of timber sales in the Tongass before a federal judge reinstated the Clinton rule.”
If this is a global tipping point on climate change, we have a gang of right-wing populists jumping up and down on the scales.