Amazon forest fires blamed on... DiCaprio?

Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be more involved in politics than movies these days, but I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that he’s helping burn down the rainforests. Or at least that was my initial impression upon hearing that the new President of Brazil was blaming the actor for a recent spate of fires that are helping to wipe out the trees down there. President Jair Bolsonaro suggested that DiCaprio might be behind it all during comments to a group of supporters. No evidence was offered to support the claim.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is blaming actor Leonardo DiCaprio for making donations to nonprofit organizations that he claims are behind some of the fires in the Amazon rainforest.

Bolsonaro told supporters Friday: “DiCaprio is a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money to set the Amazon on fire.”

DiCaprio’s environmental organization has pledged $5 million to help protect the Amazon after fires destroyed large parts of the rainforest in July and August.

DiCaprio has to be one of the least likely suspects for burning down the Amazon of anyone imaginable. The guy was named a United Nations representative on climate change. He started a foundation to fight climate change that raised more than $100M for that cause and has donated heavily to similar efforts by others. His mansion is powered by solar panels. (Though he does still tool around in private jets and yachts quite a bit.) The idea that he would be funding groups that are intentionally burning down the rainforests is simply not credible.

So what is Bolsonaro going on about here? He seems to be upset about foreign actors intervening in Brazil’s internal affairs, which may be understandable, but promoting these sorts of conspiracy theories doesn’t do him any credit. Bolsonaro’s own federal prosecutors have gone on record saying that local “land grabbers” are mostly likely responsible for the fires. Farming and ranching interests have long sought ways to clear more of the forests and seize the land for their own use, chasing indigenous tribes off the land in the process.

The new President hasn’t exactly been supportive of efforts to protect the forests. He’s an avid skeptic about climate change concerns and wants to make use of his country’s land to expand commercial activity and create jobs. Those are understandable impulses, but they should be tempered by some level of recognition of how important those rainforests are to the global ecosystem and the incredible diversity of flora and fauna found there.

Of course, we in the United States don’t exactly have the best track record to criticize him when it comes to deforestation. Since the founding of our nation, we’ve wiped out so much of the old-growth forests that they barely exist anymore. Efforts at replanting our forests have made some progress in recent decades, but we’ve got a long way to go before we come close to the amount of woodlands we used to have.

In any event, if you want to blame Leonardo DiCaprio for setting fires, shouldn’t you tag him for the ones that are close to burning down Los Angeles? At least he lives in that part of state.