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Every breath you take

The Amazon Basin is 2,700,000 square miles of which 2,100,000 miles are covered by rain forest. This territory represents more than one half of the world’s rain forest. The majority lies within the borders of Brazil. It is the most biodiverse tract in the world containing millions of living plants and animal species. And within this vast biome live an indigenous people who choose to remain in a place apart. It is a cornucopia of life, a beating heart of photosynthesis, so alive it creates its own weather patterns.

And yet, as you read these words, it burns. And we watch, with an abiding sense of horror and sadness as thousands of fires — many set intentionally — turn vital habitat into stark, chilling images of charred trees and scorched earth rubble, where crooked ribbons of fire still move relentlessly deeper into the forest.

It has been claimed — erroneously, according to scientists — that the Amazon rain forest is responsible for 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen. What is not in question is that this preternatural place consumes massive amounts of CO2 and is part of the ecological web of life that enfolds the earth.

Remarkably, world governments seem unwilling or incapable of responding to what should be regarded as a potentially catastrophic event, an ecosphere turned into desiccated savannahs. Where was the outrage at the G7 meeting in France? Why was Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, climate change denier akin to Trump, not told by the G7 that this is an environmental emergency and, sovereignty or no, there must be a global response? Trade agreements, sanctions and bans on beef and soy could have been on the table. The one meeting the G7 had on climate change and the Amazon fires proved ineffectual and, of course, Trump’s chair at the table was empty.

But perhaps the fires in the Amazon are but a metaphor for what is occurring worldwide. The orchestra plays on while we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at a voracious rate, and send the byproducts into the atmosphere. The earth continues to grow warmer by so many CO2 parts per million, and, like our reaction to the Amazon fires, we are unable to summon the global will to solve what is an existential crisis.

Perhaps as a species we are most suited to complacent optimism and therefore find it impossible to fully process the meaning of what science tells us. And when asked to try and imagine the planet 25 to 30 years from now, it is likely we will construct an image that resembles our world today. That projection is a delusion, a unicorn we create to insulate ourselves from a future we resist contemplating.

And so life goes on. We adapt and we endure. Extreme weather events — floods, droughts, fires (worldwide), melting icecaps, hurricanes, rising sea levels — are still judged as black swans or one-offs. And yet there are places still pristine, heartbreakingly beautiful and essential, places that have escaped our predation. The Amazon is still one such place. There are others. And while it is true that we as a species cannot or will not change the narrative arc regarding climate change, perhaps we can bend it and by so doing plant a flag and say that these places we will defend and keep for today and tomorrow.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.