On Sunday there are presidential elections in Brazil and, we can say with certainty, the future of the Amazon rainforest is at stake.
In a previous article, we talked about the similarities between the rhetoric of Donald Trump and that of the current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. The thesis of Anthony Pereira, the new director of the Kimberly Green Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and whom we recently interviewed, is that both men represent dangers to their respective democracies, whether or not they regain the presidency.
There are other similarities between the political behavior of Bolsonaro and Trump, including their environmental protection policies.
In an apparent trade-off between economic development and environmental protection, Bolsonaro has relaxed some environmental regulations in the Amazon, similar to what Trump did in the United States with the coal industry. During the Bolsonaro administration, deforestation in the Amazon has increased.
If Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva is elected on Sunday, environmental policies could change in Brazil, according to the British newspaper The Financial Times.
Lula “…enjoys a better reputation among many Western investors, who have worried about Bolsonaro’s sometimes overbearing rhetoric and blatant disregard for the environment.”
Lula has already served one term as president from 2003 to 2011. During his presidency, deforestation stopped significantly but accelerated under Bolsonaro.
Dr. Pereira told us recently that deforestation began to increase around 2012, before Bolsonaro was elected, but has accelerated under his administration.
Professor Pereira also said that the Bolsonaro government “sounds like it wants to increase deforestation” as opposed to a government that tries to decrease deforestation but increases it anyway due to a variety of conditions.
“He attacks environmentalists. He affirms – without evidence – that non-governmental organizations are setting fire to the Amazon and distrusts INPE’s satellite data,” said Pereira.
Furthermore, the professor believes that Bolsonaro’s worldview is stuck in 1978, when he graduated from Brazil’s military academy.
According to this view, there is a zero-sum game between environmental protection and economic development; that is, the economy cannot be developed without destroying the environment.
According to Pereira, it is difficult to know if Brazil’s deforestation will affect climate change.
“We really don’t know where the tipping point is: what percentage of the forest needs to be lost before rainfall patterns change drastically and the entire forest starts to die. It is probably best to assume that the Amazon rainforest ecosystem can be saved until we find irrefutable evidence that it has been lost.”