Fire consumes the Amazon rainforest in Altamira, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Fires across the Brazilian Amazon have sparked an international outcry for preservation of the world’s largest rainforest. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

George Will just doesn’t get it. Neither, apparently, do Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or his friend Donald Trump. Influence and power have better uses than making a lot of money as quickly as possible by setting the planet on fire. Will calls farm equipment maker John Deere’s surge in sales to Brazil “good news.” China canceling the purchase of 500,000 metric tons of soybeans from U.S. farmers, on the other hand, is just collateral damage from “friendly fire” (i.e. Trump’s tariffs). Let’s take a look at that collateral damage.

Planting a trillion trees has been suggested as the least expensive way to remove billions of tons of CO2 with which we have loaded the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Critics say it will take too long for those trees to grow, time we may not have to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences from burning fossil fuels. If they are right, the logic of protecting the mature trees in the Amazon rain forests from destruction is self-evident.

The time horizons of Will, Bolsonaro, Trump and Wall Street are much shorter than what is required for a tree to grow to maturity. Bolsonaro and his friends can make a lot of money much sooner by cutting or burning down those trees and growing the soy and other agricultural products U.S. farmers had been supplying to China until Trump decided to “Make America Great Again” by imposing tariffs on Chinese products.

There is a way Trump can have his tariffs and human civilization a viable future. It would do far more to MAGA than burning and logging Brazil’s or this country’s forests; more than draining the last drops of fracked U.S. oil in a fore-doomed attempt to control other nations’ access to energy; more than adding to the bank accounts of this nation’s and the world’s wealthiest citizens.

It would start by imposing tariffs on products produced by other countries using fossil fuels not extracted and refined in accordance with laws to protect the environment already on the books in the U.S. Going further, it would insure the full costs of using fossil fuels are reflected in their price, including “externalities” such as the cost of relocating major U.S. cities along both coasts if we continue business as usual. Finally, it would impose tariffs on foreign businesses that do not pay their employees wage levels prevailing in the U.S.

A genuinely effective strategy to MAGA would emphasize the most efficient use of its energy and its people. Loading American workers down with more debt (and the world’s central banks with more of their government’s debt) will not MAGA. The only possible outcome is national bankruptcy.

For America to again be great, it must produce wealth its own and the world’s growing population need and can afford — not more paper wealth, more debt its people and government can already realistically no longer repay. To do that it is first going to need sustainable sources of energy that don’t threaten the habitability of the planet. Its people are going to need to be educated. And they are going to need to be healthy. Sick people can’t produce wealth for themselves or anyone else.

An informed, educated, healthy population with access to renewable energy sources may threaten the power and privilege of those who own or control fossil fuels and the businesses they sustain, turning their wealth into “stranded assets.” Attempting to preserve a fossil-fuel-powered status quo threatens the planet.

Steven Lesh is a retired software engineer with a lifelong interest in history, economics and since the first Gulf War, energy and environmental issues.