ALERT’s Philip Fearnside is arguably the world’s top expert on conservation of the Amazon forest. Here he tells us why Brazilians are so worried about the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro — the man many people are calling the ‘Tropical Trump’.
What was really on voters’ minds? An April 2018 poll found three-quarters of the population worries about Brazil being invaded by a rich country bent on stealing its natural wealth.
Such paranoia aids Bolsonaro’s efforts to portray environmental concerns as threats to Brazil’s national sovereignty.
Along with Bolsonaro, conservative victories in this year’s congressional elections could speed up approval of proposed legislation that would effectively eliminate environmental licensing and halt the creation of new protected areas.
Many ordinary Brazilians are scared. Eleven pieces of legislation Bolsonaro supports are being fast-tracked and may be passed even before he takes office on 1 January 2019.
One of Bolsonaro’s main congressional allies has promised to “sell” the country’s indigenous lands.
Bolsonaro is extremely popular with big agribusiness and its economically powerful lobby.
Of considerable interest to them is a proposed law to classify the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) — which seeks to have certain private lands redistributed from wealthy landowners to the rural poor — as a terrorist organization.
This, plus Bolsonaro’s proposal to allow weapons to be carried for "protection of rural properties," could incite more armed conflicts in Amazonia — which is already the scene of thousands of rural murders.
GUTTING ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS
Under Bolsonaro’s present plans, Brazil’s environmental agencies would be stripped of power to license infrastructure projects — an enormous issue because such projects are major drivers of deforestation.
All this is akin to inviting the ‘fox to guard the chicken coop’.
Brazil’s current environmental licensing is woefully inadequate even without Bolsonaro’s schemes to weaken it further. Control of deforestation would be relaxed, he claims, with an end the “industry of [environmental] fines.”
For Bolsonaro, comparisons to Donald Trump are inevitable.
Climate-change denial, a powerful force in Brazil, is vigorously endorsed by Bolsonaro.
Like Trump, he portrays climate change as a foreign conspiracy — to prevent Brazil from developing economically — and uses social media to send climate-denialist materials to his voting base.
In August 2018 one of Bolsonaro’s sons traveled to New York to meet with Steve Bannon — the man who convinced Trump to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement.
But just before the runoff election in Brazil, Bolsonaro appeared to walk back this controversial pledge — seemingly flip-flopping, as Trump has done many times in the past.
Yet Bolsonaro will only support the Paris climate accord, he says, if he gets a written guarantee that there would be no “Triple A Project” — a planned ecological corridor connecting the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean — which Bolsonaro sees as a foreign plot to usurp control over Amazonia.
Bolsonaro also wants a guarantee of no “independence of any indigenous area.”
He evidently believes indigenous peoples might one day declare independence from Brazil and be recognized by conspiring foreign governments.
Since guarantees for such deep-fringe positions could never reasonably be expected, Bolsonaro’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement evidently remains unchanged.
If Bolsonaro is given free reign, we may just find out exactly how bad climate change is for the Brazilian economy, agriculture, hydro-power, and its peerless biodiversity and ecosystems.