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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires

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  • Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
  • Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
  • Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.

#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter

Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks

On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.

“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”

Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.

Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.

Amazon Rainforest Fires

Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.

Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.

Satellite images of a massive smoke layer released by NASA.

The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.

On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.

Cause of the Fires

Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.

First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts. 

Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.

Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.

Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.

According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.

According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.

Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.

“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.

Bolsonaro’s Policies

As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.

Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades. 

With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.

Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.

According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.

This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.

This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.

The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.

It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.

Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.

Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.

Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment. 

When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)

International

Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah

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  • Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
  • On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
  • The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
  • Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.

Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger

Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.

The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.

The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.

Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.

Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict

On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.   

The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.

The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.

The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.

Hamas Issues Ultimatum

In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.

Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)

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International

German Catholic Priests Defy Vatican by Blessing Same-Sex Unions

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  • Priests throughout Germany openly defied the Roman Catholic Church and blessed same-sex marriages over the weekend as part of an organized effort that has extended into this week.
  • In the past, the vast majority of willing priests would refuse to bless such marriages due to the ambiguity of the Church’s position, which was clarified in March 2021 as against blessing same-sex unions.
  • The effort by German priests has received some support in progressive nations but has been widely opposed by the greater Church.
  • The Vatican is unlikely to back down from its position; however, the challenge is large enough to potentially set off a debate on the issue within the Church.

Pope’s Stance on Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Catholic priests throughout Germany openly challenged a group of new rules by the Vatican this weekend and set the stage for a large debate over LGTBQ+ issues within the church.

At the center of the debate is a clear and complete ban on blessings of same-sex marriages by the Holy See from March of this year. Pope Francis’ official stance, and thus the Church’s official stance, is that priests cannot bless gay marriages because they are sinful, and the Church cannot “bless sin.”

Blessings are different from engaging in marriage ceremonies themselves and are used to bring marriages carried out by secular officials “into” the church.

The Pope’s stance received a lot of push back both within and outside of the church. Activists around the world felt it was overly restrictive and undermined Pope Francis’ other statements about loving LGBTQ+ members of the church. At the same time, hundreds of clergymen around the world, and especially in Germany, signed open letters with plans to defy the pontiff and bless same-sex unions anyways.

Such blessings weren’t completely unknown in the church because even without the Holy See’s official stance in March, it was assumed by clergymen that such blessings were forbidden; however, some carried them out anyways in secret.

Open Defiance of the Church

That secrecy largely came to an end this weekend in Germany. Sunday morning saw one of the first seemingly organized efforts in that defiance, with priests throughout Germany openly blessing same-sex marriages. The organized effort also includes another event planned for Monday, May 10, including live-streamed services.

Despite the progressive push by parts of the German church, most Catholic dioceses in the country back the Church’s official stance, and that support is even more widespread worldwide.

Beyond doctrinal differences, many German parishes are pushing for more progressive stances to cope with the fact that people are leaving the church in droves, partly because of its social stances. In some respects, those decisions have proven popular. 

As it stands, it’s unclear what will happen next to the priests and bishops who backed blessing same-sex unions, and whether or not other dioceses in progressive countries will take a similar stance and back them. It’s also unlikely that the church will change its stance on same-sex marriages.

In the meantime, hundreds of gay Catholic couples throughout Germany and neighboring countries plan to get their marriages blessed at a Catholic Church for the first time.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (BBC) (National Catholic Reporter)

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International

Mukbangs and Ordering Too Much Food Banned in China

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  • China recently passed a law that bans ordering too much food and sharing content online that portrays overeating.
  • Though food scarcity is not an issue in the country, the law is meant to combat food waste, with authorities pointing out that China tosses 35 million tons of food annually.
  • The law doesn’t penalize consumers at restaurants. Instead, it fines restaurants $1550 for allowing diners to order “more than they need.”
  • TV stations, media companies, or people who post overeating content, such as Mukbangs, can face a $16,000 fine.

The End of Mukbangs

Some of the most popular content across Chinese social media has effectively been banned under an anti-food waste law that authorities passed late last week.

The law bans diners from ordering more than they need, which could hurt an entire class of eating videos, including ones where people enter all-you-can-eat restaurants to consume thousands of dollars worth of food. While it could be argued that if the creators eat all that food, they’ve satisfied the “more than they need” clause, the law also bans binge eating and posting such content online, meaning no more mukbangs for Chinese fans.

Censors have already begun removing overeating content, and much of it went missing overnight from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app.

The law also affects far more than a fringe group of people making food content. It’s so vague and open to interpretation that it could disrupt everyday restaurant-goers.

President Xi Jinping called food waste a “distressing” problem that threatens China’s food security, despite the fact that China is not facing any imminent food shortages.

Nearly 35 million tons of food go to waste every year in China, though that’s a relatively small amount for its population size. The U.S., for comparison, manages to throw away 66 million tons of food yearly.

Still, the legislation does not come as a complete surprise since Xi launched a food-saving campaign back in August claiming that COVID-19 was threatening the food supply chain.

Who’s Penalized?

Across China, restaurants have already begun to comply with the new rules. Some have set up scales at their entrance to give recommended food portion sizes to customers based on their weight. Meanwhile, others have promised to offer smaller-sized plates as an option.

One standard that many are seeking to enact is the “N-1” rule, which states that the number of dishes should be one less than the number of guests. The rule could be an attempt to curb a cultural practice that sees hosts ordering far more food than could be eaten in an effort to show off wealth.

Under the law, much of the blame towards a consumer wasting food is placed on restaurants, as there’s no clear cut fine for diners violating the law. Any establishment found allowing customers or misleading customers into ordering excessive amounts of food facing a $1550 fine. Showing content related to binge-eating could result in TV stations, online media companies, or even content creators facing a $16,000 fine.

Tuesday seems to have been the first time regulators went after a particular business, warning a Nanjing bakery to stop throwing away pastries that the business didn’t believe would sell because of visual defects. It has promised to donate them instead.

See what others are saying: (SCMP) (The Guardian) (Vice)

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