Brazil President Bolsonaro is waging war on the environment
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Brazil President Bolsonaro is waging war on the environment

Brazil President Bolsonaro is waging war on the environment

Jair Bolsonaro

Since taking office in January, President Jair Bolsonaro has received widespread condemnation for his staunch, anti-environmental views. His regressive policies have caused a public outcry from indigenous groups and green activists. The former army captain, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, has been a long-standing skeptic of global warming.

Approval of harmful pesticides has caused irreversible damage

Recent reports indicate that Bolsonaro’s administration has greenlighted a record 290 pesticides this year. That brings the total up to over 2,300. Agencies classify around 43 percent of these pesticides as ‘highly or extremely toxic,” and regions ban a large portion of them.

These pesticides are often used only for prevention and not when they are actually needed. This poses a serious health hazard for rural workers. Additionally, experts are worried about the risk of chemicals seeping into farmland and water. These chemicals could eventually reach consumers around the country. 

There are other repercussions as well. New lab research uncovers that through December 2018 and March 2019, a staggering 500 million bees spanning four Brazilian states were killed due to pesticides like neonicotinoids and fipronil. 

If a global overhaul of intensive agriculture does not take place, 40% of insect species, including bees, could go extinct within decades. Bees fill a crucial ecological niche and pollinate as much as 75% of the world’s crops

A grave threat to Amazonia

Brazil is home to much of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which has recently seen a drastic increase in deforestation. 

There have been nearly 75,000 wildfires recorded in 2019 so far, with some blazing so intensely that smoke has traveled thousands of kilometers to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. 

True-color images show that wildfire smoke is visible from space. Photo: NOAA
True-color images show that wildfire smoke is visible from space. Photo: NOAA

True-color images show that wildfire smoke is visible from space. Photo: NOAA

The rainforest’s natural moisture and humidity prevent natural fires from occurring, which means most of the fires are caused by humans. Aside from the logging industry, farmers clear space for pastures and cropland with uncontrolled slash-and-burn methods.

Earlier this year, Bolsonaro launched a campaign to explore the economic potential of the Amazon. He relaxed environmental regulations and encouraged agribusiness and the mining sector to clear land for development. The administration has passed laws that significantly hampered the legal and institutional framework for environmental licensing and protection. 

Deforestation is happening at an alarming rate

This has led to an unprecedented surge in deforestation rates. According to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE), an area the size of one-and-a-half soccer fields is destroyed every minute.

In early August, INPE satellite images also revealed an 88% increase in deforestation in June compared to the previous month. Bolsonaro falsely charged the findings as ‘lies’ and fired the agency’s director, Ricardo Galvão, who had defended the accuracy of the data.

“We cannot accept sensationalism or the disclosure of inaccurate numbers that cause great damage to Brazil’s image,” Bolsonaro said.

Not to mention, the introduction of commercial agribusiness is devastating populations living in parts of the rainforest. Bolsonaro’s plan to assimilate over 800,000 indigenous people and open reservations up for development has been met with resistance. In June, the Supreme Court blocked an attempt to transfer the responsibility of indigenous territories to the country’s agriculture ministry, citing it unconstitutional to encroach on ancestral lands. 

The Amazon is home to 10% of the world’s species and absorbs millions of tons of carbon emissions annually. It is one of the world’s most important natural resources making it critical for future scientific discoveries and advancements. 

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A strained foreign policy

During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Bolsonaro viewed the 2015 Paris Accords as a major threat to Brazilian sovereignty. Following the footsteps of President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro promised to pull Brazil out of the deal. Shortly after, though, he backpedaled on that promise. Nonetheless, at its current rate, Brazil won’t meet climate targets set forth by the agreement, even without complete withdrawal.

Then, in late 2018, foreign minister Ernesto Araújo rescinded the offer for Brazil to host the 2019 UN climate talks. This, along with other policies, has created friction between Brazil and other countries.

Tensions rose dramatically between Brazil and several European nations after Brazil announced it would transfer funds intended to protect the Amazon to soybean and cattle farmers. In retaliation, Germany and Norway froze millions of dollars of planned foreign aid.

The dispute threatens the hard-fought EU-Mercosur trade treaty that was ratified in June after nearly two decades of talks. The three other South American countries in the treaty are Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

With Brazil and the United States largely out of the equation, the pressure is mounting around countries like China and India to lead the global climate effort.

The future is on the line

In the past few months, President Bolsonaro and his inner circle of ministers have maintained unethical ties to big business, rejected evidence from the scientific community and ignored demands for the preservation of indigenous lands. It seems likely that the administration will continue with its plans unless international interventions occur.

To slow the acceleration of global temperatures and rising sea levels, bringing pro-climate policies back to Brazil is a vital piece of the puzzle. It’s not too late to turn back.

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