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The fires burning in the rainforest of the Amazon mean different things to different people.

For many, they are a call to arms in the fight against climate change, and in the effort to preserve the planet’s natural inheritance and protect its endangered species.

People around the world have been rallying to fight the destruction. Many countries, Canada included, have offered equipment and millions of dollars to help battle the flames. They see saving the Amazon as a critical part of the effort to save the planet.

And then there is Jair Bolsonaro. When Brazil’s populist President looks at the smoke and flames rising from the part of the Amazon located inside his borders, he sees his country’s sovereign right to exploit its resources any way it sees fit, the consequences for the larger world be damned.

This environmental nationalism is reprehensible. It’s also very popular. His view is shared by voters in every country, this one included. It is also a sentiment that a growing number of populist politicians are tapping into even as the icecaps melt and storms becomes more extreme.

United States President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are the leading proponents of environmental nationalism. Their countries are by far the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, yet they defiantly defend their right to promote fossil fuels and increase emissions without interference or comment from other countries.

In 2017, Mr. Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on greenhouse-gas mitigation. And just this week, his administration revealed its intention to roll back restrictions on emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, in a bid to boost the U.S. oil and gas industry. It’s a shortsighted move that even some people in the industry oppose.

China’s regime has meanwhile long argued it should be exempt from international efforts to curb emissions while its economy struggles to catch up with that of Western countries – which, after all, unrepentantly fouled the air and water in the 19th and 20th centuries as they grew into leading developed nations.

China has taken steps to reduce some emissions, but it also continues building new coal-fired power plants, one of the dirtiest energy sources in the world, on the grounds that it is in the national interest to do so.

This me-firstism exists to some degree in every country. In Canada, the Liberal government is a supporter of the oil and gas industry, and it actively defends Canada’s right to develop and export its most valuable resource via railway, pipeline and tanker.

However, like other governments that signed the Paris Agreement, Canada is also making efforts to cut its per-capita carbon emissions. To do so, it has taken measures such as imposing a carbon tax on provinces that don’t implement their own version of carbon-pricing.

Were the Liberals to lose the federal election this fall, their likely replacement, the Conservatives, would kill the carbon-pricing scheme. It’s a platform supported by Ontario’s populist Premier, Doug Ford, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

But the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer do not have a credible plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Nor do Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney. Their parties lean heavily on vaguely enforceable regulations on industry, and hoped-for new technologies to save us all, while painting the federal carbon regime as interference by Ottawa and absolving voters of any obligation to reduce their carbon footprints.

No one argues against a nation’s right to develop its resources, or against the necessity for politicians to put their voters’ interests first. No one is saying that there is not a debate to be had about how best to meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement.

But too many leaders that skew populist are lying when they suggest there is no urgency to take part in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, or that any local effort to curb emissions won’t make a meaningful difference on a planetary scale. Or, worst of all, that man-made climate change is a fiction.

The Amazon fires remind us that the world is round, and what happens in Brazil doesn’t stay in Brazil. That’s why politicians appealing to narrow national interests, with no care for tomorrow or the world beyond their borders, are the biggest enemies of the fight to save the planet.

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