Brazilian President Bolsonaro: A threat to the environment?

You will no doubt have heard about the countless low blows Trump has dealt the environment, but you might not have heard about the newly inaugurated president of Brazil. His name is Jair Bolsonaro, and he has generated somewhat underwhelming media attention despite being, arguably, even worse for the environment than the American president.

Bolsonaro was made president in the beginning of this year, and it is clear from his campaign that the man is bad news. To get a better idea of what I mean, one of the declarations made by Bolsonaro during a live Facebook broadcast (I’m not kidding) was “let’s make Brazil great”. The guy was also stabbed in September during a campaign rally.

Aside from some substantially terrifying social and cultural opinions, Bolsonaro’s plans for the environment could be globally devastating if they are put into force. A recent report found that deforestation in Brazil has already accelerated beyond the annual norm, with over 2 million hectares of Brazil’s forest destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018. That’s the equivalent of almost a million football pitches. Based on Bolsonaro’s militant claims, there is a very high chance that this deforestation will only increase during his presidency.

In June 2017, Bolsonaro shared an article that branded climate change as ‘greenhouse fables’ just a day after President Trump announced plans to remove America from the Paris Agreement. Unsurprisingly, Bolsonaro also voiced intentions within his campaign to cut ties with the Agreement.

One of Bolsonaro’s main plans is to merge the agriculture and environmental ministries in Brazil, favouring commercial agriculture over environmental protection in order to meet short-term economic goals. This might involve mining in areas of conservation because of an abundance of minerals, or damming rivers with rare aquatic species because they boast ideal conditions for hydroelectric power plants. In order to make more space for his empire of money-spinning agricultural practices, Bolsonaro opposes increasing the number of protected areas – in what may be a crucial tipping point for the safety of the largest tropical rainforest in the world.

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest would, and already is, having a detrimental effect on worldwide biodiversity; as over half of all species on Earth reside in the 7% of land that is covered by rainforest. This could lead to the extinction of many species, something brought to recent media attention following Iceland’s banned Christmas ad featuring the deforestation of orangutans’ habitats for palm oil.

Trees also play a major role in dampening climate change as they absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. The threatened large-scale reduction of trees in Brazil would therefore lead to a global increase in damaging greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and thus an acceleration of climate change.

You might be thinking there’s no way these laws will be passed and enforced, as has been the case in America. However unlike the U.S., comparative political instability in Brazil means that the president may have the power to overrule opposition. Bolsonaro has proposed banning international NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF from operating within the country, and wants to ‘neuter’ IBAMA, the environment agency of Brazil. In other words, he has got rid of the main organisations that could threaten his environmental plans. This means Bolsonaro’s radical plans for the Brazilian rainforest could soon become very real.

By Morwenna Davies

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