From the natural world’s viewpoint, Brazil’s new choice of president is a bad sign. The country is home to more than 60 per cent of the Amazon, a forest acknowledged to be one of humanity’s best insurances against runaway climate change. Unfortunately, Jair Bolsonaro has already suggested that his new, right-wing Brazil will soon lower the bar for environmental protection and start exploiting the Amazon for logging, farming and mining.
For the climate, no news could be worse. Deforestation is responsible for 11 per cent of global CO2 emissions because, once felled, trees release the carbon dioxide they have previously captured via photosynthesis back into the atmosphere. It’s why Norway (an oil-producing country with a guilty conscience) has invested nearly $2billion over the last ten years to slow down tree logging in the Amazon. And it worked: after a disastrous year in 2004 (28,000 square kilometres of tree cover was destroyed) Amazon deforestation has slowed to well under 10,000 square kilometres a year. Germany and the UK have now reached a similar preservation agreement with Colombia.
With the election taking place last month, Bolsonaro has at least four years in power and it looks as if he may use this time to blackmail the world, utilising a system in which those who want to preserve the Amazon have to pay a bounty. It’s a stance that may be familiar to Vladimir Putin who has previously pointed to the fact that Russia’s immense forests allow the world to breath, while skirting over its role as one of the biggest producers of oil and gas. Brazil, a much smaller oil producer, may try to play the same card.
Admittedly, being blackmailed by a ruthless populist like Bolsonaro will not be pleasant. Yet, other countries proven to have a poor record on civil rights, such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Venezuela, have all been exploiting the world’s oil addiction and collecting a perpetual stream of dollars. Is handing over money to Bolsonaro any worse?
Humankind needs the forests in Brazil (and those in the Congo, Indonesia and Siberia) merely to survive. This is why options are limited. When a man around the corner commands you to ‘stand and deliver’, there are not that many choices.
This was published in the December 2018 edition of Geographical magazine
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