After the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on 8 October 2018, Ben van Beurden, the CEO of Shell, suggested that one solution to climate breakdown is “massive reforestation… think of another Brazil in terms of rainforest: you can get to 1.5ºC”. What else would one expect as an answer from the worst possible person to ask for advice on combating global warming? I suppose Shell have to make amends for their role in climate change somehow, especially since they’ve been aware of the implications of climate change since the 1980s (Leaked documents from ExxonMobil, another titan of the fossil fuel industry, revealed the company also knew of the possibilities of continuing to profit from the extraction of fossil fuels). Alas, in the midst of the potential solutions, one happens upon one of the classic causes of human tribulations: humankind itself.
What van Beurden proposes is valid but ignores a greater problem; there is already an expansive rainforest in Brazil that used to sufficiently absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating the impact of climate change. Nevertheless, that rainforest is being rapidly deforested, a process that will surely be accelerated by the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency.
As part of the project DETER-B, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research monitors the deforestation of Brazil, using satellites that map this in close to real-time. Data provided by the National Institute of Space Research shows that there was an increase of 36 percent in the rate of deforestation during the Brazilian presidential election campaign. This was due in part to what has been called the ‘Bolsonaro effect’, which suggests that those responsible for deforestation feel emboldened by the president-elect’s disdain for the Amazon – a worrying trend that will surely intensify when Bolsonaro takes office. In an interview with National Geographic, Scott Mainwaring, the Professor for Brazilian Studies at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, stated that “it doesn’t seem there will be any major effort to protect the Amazon” considering the extent of Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, as well as his links to the agribusiness sector, which unsurprisingly endorsed the president-elect.
Those responsible for deforestation feel emboldened by the president-elect’s disdain for the Amazon – a worrying trend that will surely intensify when Bolsonaro takes office.
Bolsonaro’s prospective environmental policies show little regard for the already fragile ecosystem in the Amazon. One such policy is the planned usage of indigenous land for agribusiness. At a meeting with a member of the Xingu indigenous territory on the 26thof October 2018, the president-elect suggested that, like Native Americans, Brazil’s indigenous tribes could profit from the “exploitation of biodiversity, as well as royalties of possible hydroelectric dams”. Although, plans to put the farm ministry in charge of indigenous affairs suggest Bolsonaro’s loyalty lies more with the ruralist farm owners than the native Brazilians.
In addition to this, Bolsonaro also pledged to emancipate the native population. This ‘emancipation’ could entail the indigenous population of the rainforest losing the right to inhabit their land, and being treated like ordinary Brazilian individuals, entitled instead to private property. By stripping native Brazilians of land that is rightfully and legally theirs, Bolsonaro could open up fertile native land to local as well as international agribusiness. The Amazon rainforest would be at great risk to such a policy, as the majority of indigenous land is located within the state of Amazonas, which also contains the largest portion of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
Bolsonaro may have reneged on his promise to combine the agriculture and environment ministries. Irrespective of this, the man who may take charge of the combined Ministry, Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, is the President of the Rural Democratic Union (UDR), a right-wing agricultural pressure group that seeks to protect farmers from land reform. In addition to this, Terez Cristina, Bolsonaro’s pick for the Minister of Agriculture, owns a multitude of cattle ranches and has links to JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processing companies. Moreover, Cristina backed the 3,729/2004 bill, which fast-tracked infrastructure projects, such as dams, roads or mines, before the Brazil Institute of Environment (IBAMA) could ascertain the environmental impact of such projects. Even Ernesto Araújo, the new Brazilian foreign minister, believes that climate change is a Communist hoax, even though capitalism and human greed seems to be responsible for environmental degradation. With a cabinet of enablers to bolster Bolsonaro’s damaging propositions, Brazil is likely on an irreversible path toward encouraging environmental destruction.
By stripping native Brazilians of land that is rightfully and legally theirs, Bolsonaro could open up fertile native land to local as well as international agribusiness.
The significance of the Amazon rainforest cannot be allowed to be understated by the Brazilian government-elect’s climate denial and unshakable allegiance with agribusiness. On Tuesday 27th of October 2018, the UN released an incredibly urgent climate report, the ‘Emissions Gap Report’, which indicated that global emissions of carbon dioxide are yet to reach a peak. In fact, according to the Mauna Loa Observatory, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 411 parts per million in April of this year. This is the highest recorded level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at any point in human history, bearing in mind that the records extend back 800,000 years. The UN’s report stated that “now more than ever, unprecedented and urgent action is required by all nations”, and efforts to reduce carbon emissions “[need] to be roughly tripled for the 2°C scenario and increased around fivefold for the 1.5°C scenario”.
A significant drain of carbon emissions are the natural carbon sinks scattered around the world. Carbon sinks are natural environments, like the ocean or forests, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rainforests play an important role in alleviating the greenhouse effect, and with the ever-increasing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the risk of devastating global warming increases. A study by the scientific journal, Nature, concluded that the Amazon rainforest has already reached a point at which is absorbing almost a third less carbon than a decade ago. Bearing in mind the environmental magnitude of the Amazon, the consequences of allowing it to be felled and plundered for economic gain are global. Without the Amazon acting as a carbon sink, the likelihood of a hothouse earth, and, in turn, cataclysmic climate events will rise exponentially.
And yet, at such a pivotal moment in human history, the political will in Brazil to do something about climate change has completely evaporated. Right-wing political brainwashing has convinced the people of people that the current economic system has nothing to do with their troubles, they fear a Communist seizure of power rather than the effects of a crisis that will impact their lives sooner rather than later. As the apocalyptic effects of climate change loom closer and closer, all the while, power continues to be handed to those who do not desire to simultaneously hold office and protect the environment. In this instance however, the election of Jair Bolsonaro is different because it has such unbelievably devastating implications. The Amazon rainforest may disappear completely and with it, the hope to rectify the effects of hundreds of years of Western industrialisation.